TALLAHASSEE — As criminals develop more and more creative ways to exploit unsuspecting citizens, the sheriff’s office is trying to find equally creative ways to foil their efforts.
A major modern weapon in the sheriff’s arsenal of crime-fighting tools is social media. In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) is encouraging citizens to sign up for a social media application called Nextdoor.
Nextdoor is a national social network tool tailored to individual neighborhoods. Residents sign up and can communicate about anything going on in their neighborhood, from recent break-ins to less threatening information like who is a good babysitter or about someone rehoming an out-grown bicycle.
LCSO Executive Director of Community and Media Relations Shonda Knight said, “We want citizens to be informed on what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”
“We’ve been utilizing Nextdoor and encouraging people to sign up for it because it’s a tool we can use to get specific information to a specific neighborhood. We have used Nextdoor in law enforcement knowing we can target certain areas, versus sending out messages to the community as a whole. If there is a rash of car burglaries in your neighborhood, we can send a message directly to your neighborhood saying we’ve seen an uptick of car burglaries in your neighborhood and make sure you lock your doors. Or it can be used for traffic incidences specific to your area,” she said.
Knight explained further while LCSO can post to the site, it can’t see messages the residents are sending to each other. “Numerous neighborhoods are using it,” she said. “It’s starting to catch on.”
According to LCSO, there are 15,754 people in Leon County using Nextdoor, with 866 new members in the last 30 days. Out of 134,876 total households, 12,628 are participating, or about nine percent of households in Leon County.
“A big part of Sheriff McNeil’s message has been transparency, so we want people to know what’s happening in their neighborhoods so they can better protect themselves and be safe,” Knight said.
“Nosy neighbors are good,” she said with a laugh. “You want people looking for anything that’s suspicious.”
LCSO is also hoping to launch a new website by October. According to Knight, it will feature sector-based crime reporting which will allow people to log on and see what happened in their neighborhoods overnight. She said they have also utilized billboards and radio public service announcements and are helping neighborhoods establish Neighborhood Watch programs.
“We’ve really focused on putting those messages out there of how you can help fight crime. It has to be all of us,” Knight said.
She said at a recent staff meeting, Sheriff Walt McNeal told those attending, “Crime isn’t going to go down because Walt McNeil is sheriff. Crime will go down because the community is getting behind the efforts we’re putting in place to help bring it down.”
“Violent crime, thankfully, is down,” Knight said, “but it’s burglaries and thefts we’re really seeing right now and we’re trying to target that.”
“Our deputies are out patrolling every day, but we can’t be everywhere all the time. So, it is incumbent upon citizens to be smart, (don’t leave your key fob on the hanger in the gym or leave a key to your house under the door mat) and be vigilant,” she said.