May 18, 2012
It was only a matter of time until police got on the crowd-sourcing bandwagon, too. Think Twitter for law enforcement, and you get Nixle—a real time update to your mobile device that can relay pertinent information like school lockdowns or dangerous suspects on the prowl.
They can also get ordinary people on board as citizen cops, alerting them to what a suspect looks like and where they could be.
"It's really cool when you have 1,200 sets of eyes instead of four," Commander Bob Nolan says, referring to the number of Nixle users in Hollister, and the number of officers Marina might deploy to a crime report.
"It doesn't have to be a crime, it can be an autistic child that walked away and then we're looking for them," Nolan adds.
Marina PD launched the free social media tool May 1, the department's reaction after schools went on lockdown due to reports of a gunman on campus. It turned out the suspect was holding a cell phone.
"Nothing's worse than being a parent and finding out, three parents down the road, the story has changed," Commander Bob Nolan says. "In our debriefing, Chief Eddie Rodriguez said, 'We've got to do a better job. We need to get the word out to our parents better."
Marina launched a CrimeReports.com page April 9, which shows neighborhood maps and recent crimes by type and location, at a cost to the department of $1,200 a year.
It's evidence of a major shift in how law enforcement relates to the public, Nolan says. "When I started 25 years ago, we didn't release a lot of info to the public. Now the unwritten model is that everybody wants to be transparent, and this is the best way for us to be transparent.
"Law enforcement used to be like a secret society, and it's not any more. It's pretty much a group effort." The key to making social media effective, he adds, is getting people signed up.
Next up for increasingly tech-savvy Marina PD, Nolan says, is Predictive Policing, which Salinas PD plans to adopt as a beta tester.
And some of it's not so new. Greenfield PD started using Nixle about four years ago, along with gadgets like cell phone analyzers that can download data quickly, sophisticated crime-scene cameras and 3D mapping equipment, and a hand-held spectrometer used to ID drugs or other substances.
"When we’re facing reductions in budget and manpower, we’ve been trying to hold the gap by adopting new technologies that make us more effective with the resources that we have," recently retired Greenfield Police Chief Joe Grebmeier says.
Grebmeier also serves on the board of the Society of Police Futurists, where he says his biggest lesson has been to be adaptable to technology: ""You can either be on the new wave, or you can be swamped by it."