A local meeting place
Social media site links Cecil neighbors, police
— Don Rees isn’t one to visit Facebook. His biggest complaint: Users must wade through a lot of extraneous and oft-times trivial information before they find a posting that actually relates to or directly affects them.
“It’s just a bunch of gossip about stuff I’m not interested in from people all over the place. It’s a waste of time. I’m not a fan of Facebook,” Rees said, opining, “It’s just a way for (Facebook Founder Mark) Zuckerberg to make money.”
Yet, oddly enough, Rees, 64, started an online social media page exclusively for residents in his neighborhood, Chesapeake Haven,
an Earleville water community that is at the head of the Chesapeake Bay.
Rees did it back in November 2013 through Nextdoor, a free private social networking service that allows people in a neighborhood to connect with their neighbors online while blocking others from accessing the site.
For Rees, it down to content.
“It’s just about our community. It focuses only on our business. That’s why I like it,” Rees said.
At this point, 76 of the 132 households in Chesapeake Haven have signed up for that community’s Nextdoor site, which translates to 58 percent of the households, he said. With some households having more than one person signed up, there are 100 Nextdoor members who reside in Chesapeake Haven, he added.
Postings range widely on Nextdoor sites, including alerts when pets go missing, information regarding upcoming community yard sales, block parties and other organized neighborhood functions and so forth.
There also is a Neighborhood Watch element to Nextdoor, with residents communicating online about suspicious vehicles or people spotted in the community, recent burglaries and thefts from sheds, garages and parked vehicles.
Tool for police Such Neighborhood Watch interactions were reinforced in March, when the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office joined Nextdoor and started publicly encouraging other communities in the county to sign up, according to Sgt. Michael Kalinsky, who is assigned to the agency’s Community Resources Unit.
Kalinsky reported that 2,115 of Cecil County’s 42,910 households have joined Nextdoor social all comes media sites applicable to their neighborhoods since CCSO got involved in March, bringing the total number to 2,815, as of Thursday.
The agency has found Nextdoor to be a quick, easy and effective way to release important police-related information to a specific neighborhood or neighborhoods online, Kalinsky said. Meanwhile, he added, CCSO deputies and officers aren’t able to browse the exclusive sites.
“We don’t see anything directly. It’s private between the homeowners, which is an important aspect so they can speak freely,” Kalinsky emphasized.
A Nextdoor member, however, can send a private communication to CCSO to express a concern in the neighborhood and, in turn, the agency can address the problem, Kalinsky noted.
“Nextdoor is specifically geared to the neighborhood, community or town where you live. It encourages neighbors to get to know one another. It’s just a way for neighbors to talk to one another and to us (CCSO) if they need to,” Kalinsky said.
Nextdoor compliments CCSO’s Facebook page, which averages reaching about 150,000 people weekly, by providing precision in the dispensing of policerelated and public safety information.
Kalinsky recalled, for example, how Nextdoor allowed him to pinpoint the recipients of his public safety alerts in May, when a migrating black bear, nicknamed “Cecil the Bear,” was spotted roaming through various parts of Cecil County.
“When ‘Cecil the Bear’ was in the area, I was able to alert specific neighborhoods in real time that were near the latest reported (bear) sighting,” Kalinsky said.
He recently used Nextdoor to remind residents in two North East-area neighborhoods, Bethel Springs and Whitaker Woods, to lock the doors of their parked cars and trucks amid a rash of thefts from vehicles in that community.
Approximately three times a month, Nextdoor is useful for issuing neighborhoodspecific alerts when a traffic accident occurs near a certain community and it results in road closures.
Know your neighbor In 2014, Rachel SykesMarut started a Nextdoor site for her Locust Point neighborhood, which, south of Elkton, is comprised of approximately 150 houses along the Elk River. Sykes-Marut did so after her sister relayed good things about the Nextdoor site in her neighborhood.
“It was easy,” she said, referring to establishing the “geographic lines” for the neighborhood and soliciting neighbors to join. As of this week, 138 Locust Point residents are Nextdoor members, she reported.
Skyes-Marut is impressed with how Nextdoor blends the Neighborhood Watch aspect with the best features of a social media site.
“It’s as if Facebook and a Neighborhood Watch got together and had a little child — Nextdoor,” she explained.
The Locust Point Nextdoor site has helped residents there on numerous occasions.
“We have found each others’ dogs, hosted neighborhood garage sales, reported suspicious activity, created a litter pickup schedule and much more,” Sykes-Marut said, adding, “We love our little, private social media site, and am excited to see so many using it.”
There is a welcomed social aspect to Nextdoor, as well, according to Sykes-Marut.
She opined that, due largely to hectic family schedules and more indoor activities, it is difficult nowadays to have frequent face-to-face or even phone conversations with neighbors, particularly in big communities.
“It’s a different world. Kids spend more time inside,” she said. “But I have met quite a few neighbors through it. My neighbor posted, ‘ Hey, we’re having a bonfire tonight,’ just put it out there and invited everyone in the neighborhood.”
Shelley Evans also is pleased with the social aspect of Nextdoor. Her Villages of Elk Neck neighborhood, which is near Oldfield Point Road, southwest of Elkton, set up a Nextdoor site exclusively for that community a couple of years ago.
“I have made met one neighbor in the hood through our Nextdoor site, and we are now friends. I wouldn’t have met the person otherwise,” Evans said.
Moreover, the site allows Villages of Elk Neck residents to share the type of information that, years ago, would have been conveyed as neighbors stood in their backyards and chatted across the fence.
“You can click on a ‘ Recommendations’ section. You may see, ‘ Who can recommend a good plumber?’ or ‘Who can recommend a good auto mechanic?’ and neighbors will give their recommendations,” Evans said.
Along the lines, according to Evans, there have been snow-related posts like, “Did you guys get plowed yet? Did it come through already and miss us?’ and utilityrelated posts, including, “Is you internet as slow as mine right now?’”
Most recently, after posting a notice for residents to respond, the Villages of Elk Neck site now features a neighborhood map indicating which homes will be giving out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters in an effort to save costumed youngsters some steps and to prevent non-participating neighbors from hearing numerous knocks on their doors.
Evans is equally pleased with the Neighborhood Watch element.
“Every time I get an email, there is activity on the website. It could be something like, ‘I heard a big bang last night. Is everyone OK? Does anyone know what it was?’” Evans said. “Someone might report that their shed was broken into. It seems like one person reports something and others join in, like, ‘Come to think of it, I’m missing some tools.’ We are connected to the sheriff’s office. We can communicate with them and they can communicate with us if they have something to tell us. It’s almost like we have an officer assigned to our neighborhood.”
Sgt. Michael Kalinsky, of the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office, points to a map that provides a variety of information regarding the use of the Nextdoor social networking service in Cecil County.