AUSTIN -- Technology is putting a modern twist on old-fashioned neighborhood crime-prevention programs.
Nextdoor is a private social network, similar to Facebook. The city and county call it a way to take your regular neighborhood crime watch into the 21st century.
A few weeks ago, Kelly Laney's car was broken into.
“I checked my security camera and caught the suspect crossing my yard, approaching the vehicle in my driveway,” she said. Incidents like this are one reason Laney started a Nextdoor group for her neighbors in the Woodhaven neighborhood.
She posted the security footage on Woodhaven's Nextdoor site, and quickly heard from others who had their cars broken into.
“By the end of the first day we realized this wasn't an isolated event, and we got together and were able to file a more in-depth police report,” Laney said. “We're hoping to let the criminals know that we are on the watch.”
Laney's Nextdoor experience is just one example of what many call a virtual neighborhood watch. The City and Travis County Sheriffs Office launched a partnership with Nextdoor today.
“Think about this, neighborhood watch not just in cars, neighborhood watch not just on foot, but a neighborhood watch in cyberspace,” said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. “It allows us to stay connected and empowers the neighborhoods themselves to take action and get involved.”
This partnership will allow the City and County to communicate with different parts of town through Nextdoor, sending out alerts and finding out what impacts each specific neighborhood.
“From parks issues to traffic to criminal activity, we're looking forward to contributing to conversations that are already taking place and using Nextdoor to help our residents improve our communities and make it safer,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
Using Nextdoor, neighborhoods can establish and manage their own secure websites. All members go through a verification process to prove they live in that neighborhood.
Only members can access that neighborhood's website.
“There are 500 Austin and Travis County neighborhoods that are already using Nextdoor and it's one of our strongholds,” said Nextdoor founder Nirav Tolia.
He believes this could be the icebreaker some neighbors need to get more involved.
“What we find is people meet using Nextdoor, they meet using that technology and then they meet in person in the real world,” Tolia said.
Nextdoor is free for anyone, including the City and County.
It's available on your computer and also as a smartphone app.