Dancing with NIXLE

2013-03-08 16:17:05

The Newport Beach Police Department is enthusiastically married to NIXLE.

Costa Mesa PD is engaged.

San Clemente is kind of dating.

The OC Sheriff decided not to pursue NIXLE, preferring to embrace Twitter and Facebook. And other coastal cities have been watching and weighing their options.

NIXLE is a secure subscription service that permits law enforcement agencies to send targeted alerts, crime advisories and relevant community news to residents who sign up at nixle.com.   

Even if your police department doesn’t use it, you can sign up and gain access to alerts from agencies as diverse as the California Highway Patrol, the California Emergency Management Agency, the National Blue Alert System, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

It’s free – both to you and your city. And, as one friend says, “it raises your consciousness” about crime trends in your city and neighborhood.

I’ve learned via NIXLE that major crime was down in Newport Beach last year, and that arrest records suggest a majority of crime committed along the coast (especially during the summer months) is executed by people who don’t live here.  

NIXLE alerted me to a rash of neighborhood burglaries nearby where doors and windows were left unlocked; an epidemic of bicycle and mail/package thefts; fresh scams that target seniors; and the annual Christmas tradition of smash-and-grab incidents involving cars where gifts and shopping bags are left in clear sight.

I think it’s cool. So does NBPD’s sophisticated Police Chief Jay Johnson, a relentless data-driven pro who combs through it to guide decisions on where to deploy his limited resources. It also helps the police identify trends and share them with residents.

“It’s a tremendous communications tool that permits us to communicate directly and quickly with the community,” he says. “It also gives subscribers the ability to decide what type of communication and information they want to receive.”

In recent weeks, the department issued a ZIP code-specific NIXLE alert that a man suffering from Alzheimer’s had walked away from his home. A volunteer who had been motivated by the alert to join the search discovered him in a nearby canyon.  

A NIXLE advisory warned that a ring of scammers was approaching seniors in local shopping center lots and offering to remove dents from their cars for a reasonable price, but taking money without doing the work. Community feedback and tips led to arrests shortly after the first alert.

A NIXLE alert warned of traffic congestion where a pedestrian had been struck and killed by a car.

The nixle.com service has its limitations – not in its design, but mostly in the way it is used by law enforcement.

It’s most effective in reporting crime statistics and trends, and suggesting ways we can fortify against criminals. It has great potential to keep citizens informed in the event of a major disaster.

It is less helpful in providing real-time information about potentially life-threatening criminal activity such as the recent shooting incident in Fashion Island, and the regional search for the rogue former cop who went on a murderous rampage.

In fairness, no one has promised NIXLE would replace, let alone compete with, social media and its varied sources that help us piece together random facts and information in a crisis (some of it dead wrong.)

Face it: Law enforcement organizations are inherently conservative, cautious and much more reluctant than talk radio and social media to pass along conjecture, rumors and speculation, until they’ve locked down facts. That takes time and analysis. They don’t want to get it wrong.

During the Fashion Island shooting, my first alert was passed along by my daughter, who was in touch with three Facebook “friends” who were variously hiding out in the Tesla Store and the Canaletto Restaurant and running away from the gun shots in the Macy’s parking lot.

I didn’t get the entire picture right away, but enough to be aware and stay away. My NIXLE service was silent. Local newspaper websites didn’t stir. News radio stations began reports after the shooter had been apprehended.

Having said that, departments feeding NIXLE are constantly adjusting their approaches to make the service more relevant to subscribers without spamming them. The greatest value may be in our ability to see the big picture about criminal and public safety activity in our individual ZIP codes.

Their bigger challenge has been getting the word out and encouraging residents to subscribe. NBPD has 3,000 subscribers.

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Larry Thomas had a career involving reporting, and corporate and political communications. He decided five years ago that beach-cruising, travel, the theater, and wine deserved a higher priority in his life.

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