A lo­cal meet­ing place

So­cial me­dia site links Ce­cil neigh­bors, po­lice

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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.

ELK­TON

“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.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

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.

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