Berkeley Police crime alert experiment underway

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A pilot program by the Berkeley Police Department to send out email and text alerts using a web-based service called Nixle has been live for about two weeks.

Nearly 2,000 people have signed up for the service, and the Police Department has sent out eight notices since the launch of the program May 1.

The city of Berkeley has been slow to embrace social media, and the Police Department’s use of Nixle has been described as a step in that direction.

For the most part, the city is still offline as far as the major social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. But the Nixle experiment has provided a centralized way for residents to sign up for public safety alerts, and gives police staff the ability to send out notices quickly when the need to communicate arises.


The city still uses another tool, called the Berkeley Emergency Notification System (BENS), during widespread disasters to call and email residents, but it has proven to be unreliable in the past and can take many hours to cycle through notifications. Nixle is meant to augment, not replace, outreach efforts such as BENS and radio station 1610 AM, says city staff.

Nixle alerts thus far have included news about the current police beat reorganization underway to a traffic advisory about a large fire near the freeway. Police have reminded people how to submit crime reports online, and put out a bulletin about a missing at-risk woman, as well as an update when she was found.

Nixle also makes it easy to submit anonymous tips to the Berkeley Police Department, via a link in the upper righthand corner of each individual alert page. Other police departments that use Nixle have said this feature is one of the most useful elements of the system in terms of collecting information from the community.

The ability to submit anonymous tips is one feature of the Nixle system. Image: Nixle
The ability to submit anonymous tips is one feature of the Nixle system. Image: Nixle

Previously, the main way the Berkeley Police Department put out information was via the email lists of the city’s four area coordinators — who are the main neighborhood contacts across the primary police divisions around Berkeley — along with a general department email outreach list. For those new to the community or unfamiliar with the system, however, it could be a challenge to figure out how to connect. (Those email lists continue to be used.)

Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood said via email earlier this month that Nixle is one way to make it easier to stay informed about public safety.


“Whether using email or Nixle messages, we’re working to communicate with our community members in the ways that they want to get messages,” he said.

Greenwood said the department plans to send out a couple of pre-planned items each week, in addition to incident-driven alerts: “These items would include reports about our activities, upcoming events, crime prevention information, hiring opportunities, and other types of information. We want to strike a balance of the right amount of good, useful information, so that Nixle subscribers stay tuned, and are getting true value from their free subscription.”

The six-month Nixle pilot program was announced by the city in early April.

At that time, city manager Christine Daniel said in a memo that the city is developing a social media policy, which she described as “a significant undertaking” that “requires coordination and input from numerous stakeholders to address policy and legal issues.”

In the meantime, the Nixle pilot will “allow the City to obtain experience with one media platform, Nixle, prior to finalizing a City-wide plan..”


For those concerned about privacy, according to Nixle, user information “is stored on a secure server in a secure facility. The company does not sell personal information to third parties.” (Read more about the service here.)

Residents can sign up for the program either online or via cellphone. Sign-up instructions appear on Nixle’s website. There is no cost to sign up. Participants can elect to receive alerts via phone or email, or simply view the information online. (The city of Berkeley account appears here.)

Related:
Berkeley to launch Nixle crime alerts for phone, email (04.08.14)
Berkeley officials: Social media ‘critical’ for transparency (04.01.14)
Neighbors talk surveillance, robberies, code enforcement at crime watch meeting (03.07.14)
3 years on, city of Berkeley still stuck on social media (02.19.14)
Berkeley residents, police collaborate on safety (04.18.13)
Why doesn’t the city of Berkeley have a Facebook page? (03.14.11)
A council member takes to Twitter, other officials lag (05.27.11)

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