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Police use Nextdoor to open dialogue between residents, department

Sometimes Grand Forks residents don't call police because they don't want to bother them, Cpl. Tim Schuh said. But officers want to hear from local residents, he said. "Something, no matter how small it may seem, could be the key to put everythin...

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Sometimes Grand Forks residents don't call police because they don't want to bother them, Cpl. Tim Schuh said.

But officers want to hear from local residents, he said.

"Something, no matter how small it may seem, could be the key to put everything together," Schuh said.

That's why the Grand Forks Police Department set up a Nextdoor account.

"We just want to make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch with us and give us their concerns," Schuh said. "It seems like logging onto that website and typing off a few sentences seems to be a lot easier than making a phone call."


Nextdoor is a private social network that was founded in San Francisco in 2010, focused on connecting neighborhoods. People can sign up and designate boundaries for their neighborhood and then connect with others to keep others informed and keep their neighborhood safe.

Neighbors have to sign in with their real names and verify their address, usually by having a postcard sent to their home, showing a utility bill or being vetted by other neighbors, Schuh said.

Police departments across the country are using Nextdoor to help monitor neighborhoods and keep in touch with residents.

Fort Worth police in Texas recruited dozens of volunteers through Nextdoor for a citizens patrol program in elementary schools, according to Nextdoor, and Sacramento police saw crime decrease by more than 7 percent after its membership grew.

The Grand Forks Police Department started using Nextdoor in October after a resident suggested it, Schuh said.

"We were just looking for ways to interact with the community," Schuh said. "But what really drew us to Nextdoor is residents can get in touch with us easily."

The Police Department has just under 800 members and saw the account grow by 100 people in the last week shortly after it published a post on its Facebook page alerting followers it had a page on Nextdoor.

"The more people who know about it, the better it will be for the whole program," Schuh said.


Nextdoor is different from Facebook and other social media sites, as it allows residents to contact their ward officers directly, while Facebook is more general and is only seen by people who check the Facebook page.

Nextdoor also offers more privacy than Facebook, Schuh said. If someone posts on the Police Department's Facebook page, anyone can see it. With Nextdoor, only the intended recipient can see it.

"We cannot see any posts people make that they don't want us to," Schuh said. "You have to directly send us a message for us to see it, so there's still a large amount of privacy."

Grand Forks' use of Nextdoor is still in the early phases, but it's already had a crime-related success story.

About a week ago, the Police Department wrote on its Nextdoor account that a resident had noticed a suspicious vehicle in her neighborhood. Through Nextdoor, she was able to work with police, leading to an arrest for drug paraphernalia.

The Police Department also posted a map of burglaries in the city, alerted residents on how to keep their homes safe while away during the holidays and provided updates on the October bank robberies in Grand Forks.

But Nextdoor isn't just about alert the public to crime-related incidents, Schuh said. Some ward officers use it as a chance to introduce themselves to residents in their districts. There are seven ward officers in Grand Forks, and Schuh is one of them. Residents can find out who their ward officer is by visiting the Police Department's website at grandforksgov.com/government/police and clicking on the "police ward officers" tab.

"It opens up dialogue," Schuh said. "It makes it easier to contact us."


And it's another way to tell residents about events. The Police Department will host a landlord tenant training session at 9 a.m. Wednesday and a "cocoa with a cop and a firefighter" event at 9 a.m. Feb. 25. Both are at the police station at 122 Fifth St. S.

It's been a "shallow learning curve" for police officers to get comfortable to using Nextdoor, Schuh said, but the Police Department wants to connect with more residents.

"By and large, it's getting positive feedback," he said.

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