Nextdoor social network helps Olathe police talk with neighborhoods

07/14/2014 12:33 PM

07/14/2014 12:40 PM

As a way to better communicate with residents, the Olathe Police Department is trying a new online social network aimed at building stronger neighborhoods.

In June, the Olathe Police Department partnered with the free online neighborhood-based network, which is like Facebook but for specific neighborhoods.

Sgt. Bryan Hill said the goal of Nextdoor is to build relationships within neighborhoods.

“The main thing is to get neighbors back together and having conversations,” Hill said.

Unlike Facebook, which can be cluttered with posts from around the world, Nextdoor websites are limited to posts from people within a specific neighborhood. Users sign up with their address, which remains private, and are placed inside a neighborhood. If none exists for their area, a user can create a neighborhood. Once a neighborhood is established, neighbors can post information, such as social events, garage sales and lost pets.

So far, more than 50 neighborhoods and about 2,000 households in Olathe have signed up, and Hill said the system has already been helpful in locating a lost pet.

Olathe is the first city in Johnson County to partner with Nextdoor, but 120 neighborhoods in Johnson County and 300 across the metro have signed up for the network.

Kansas City, Mo., announced last week that the city would also partner with the website to share public safety issues, public meetings and seasonal neighborhood issues with residents signed up on the more than 100 Nextdoor neighborhoods.

Topeka was the first city in Kansas to partner with Nextdoor back in March.

Residents can sign up and create neighborhoods even if their city hasn’t partnered with Nextdoor.

But the city partnership allows the Olathe Police Department to send information like crime statistics or the description of a suspect to neighborhoods in the network.

For instance, Hill said if an area of the city has an increase in graffiti, police could post information to neighborhoods in that area. The police department can’t see what people in the neighborhoods are posting online, but users can send the department messages.

“We hope this will help us solve and prevent crime,” he said.

Several neighborhoods were already in the system when the Olathe Police Department started using Nextdoor, including Michael Brady’s neighborhood.

Brady launched a Nextdoor neighborhood for his homeowners association, Arbor Landing, in January. So far, he said, 114 of 204 households have joined.

The Arbor Landing neighborhood uses Nextdoor mostly for planning social events, and Brady said they try to limit how much is posted on the site.

“We don’t want it to turn into Facebook,” he said.

Nextdoor is free to users and cities because venture capitalists like Greylock Partners, Explore Holdings and Benchmark Capital have provided large investments — totaling more than $100 million, said Jen Burke, a representative with Nextdoor.

In the future the company may work with local businesses to build a yellow pages-like system, but Burke said Nextdoor wants to avoid advertising.

While Nextdoor is similar to Notify JoCo, the countywide email, text and phone notification system, it’s unlikely the website will replace Notify JoCo, said Tim Danneberg, communications director for Olathe.

Cities pay for Notify JoCo — about $25,000 a year in Olathe’s case — but Danneberg said the two systems offer different things. Notify JoCo allows emergency services to broadcast information to a broad audience and subscribers can sign up for alerts for five different street addresses, while Nextdoor is limited to a designated neighborhood.

Danneberg said it is likely the city would use the two networks in conjunction.

“It (Nextdoor) is way better at building stronger communities, but Notify JoCo is great for emergencies,” he said.

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