Last week during the discussion over the safety of downtown Albany's Pearl Street area we heard from the Albany Police Department that it's been working on new ways of keeping the public updated with advisories and crime info.
The APD is using an online system called Nixle, which offers law enforcement agencies the capability to issue notifications sorted by geographic zone to signed-up users. The department has been trying it out in the Pine Hills and Washington Park areas, and it says it's now ready to introduce it to other neighborhoods in the city.
Nixle allows police to publish real-time updates via email and text message about all sorts of situations -- public meetings, road closures, and snow emergencies, missing child alerts, and neighborhood crime sprees. Locally it's being used by the Albany and Saratoga Springs police departments.
Here's the Albany Police Department's Nixle feed.
Nixle's website says it's signed up more than 4,600 public agencies since making the service available in 2009. It's been credited with helping to save lives in a mass shooting in Oakland, California this past spring, as well as helping police departments in other cities track down suspects. Currently it's being offered free to law enforcement agencies, though eventually premium versions may be offered at a charge.
In addition to issuing alerts, the APD is also using the system to send monthly crime reports to subscribers via email. The reports show the number of Part 1 crimes (felonies like gun crimes, burglaries and assaults) in a given neighborhood, and compares the numbers to the previous month previous year.
Here's last month's report from the Lark Street area:
The default setting is for users to get reports for the entire city. In Albany, that includes about 32 different crime reports -- one for each of the city's law enforcement zones. If you don't want all that email and you'd prefer to just have the reports for your neighborhood, you have to email your name, email address and crime zone to Smith: ssmith |at| albany-ny |dot| org. and the APD will register you. Here's a map of Albany's law enforcement zones:
"I think Nixle is going to come in very handy once we get a lot of people signed up," says APD public information officer Steven Smith, "because you'll know how many car break ins there were, you'll know how many burglaries there were, you'll know how many assaults there were."
Up to now it's been in a trial phase. Two weeks ago Smith says he sent out a text message on Nixle to warn residents about a rash of car break-ins in and around Washington Park. The APD also provided an update to people in the Lark Street neighborhood about a man wanted for public lewdness.
Chris Cole says the system has gotten similar use in Saratoga. "It's just another tool," he says, "but it's a helpful tool."
And the system is only helpful if people -- both police and residents -- use it. Saratoga Springs adopted Nixle about a year ago, and police chief Christopher Cole says so far only about 200 people have registered. In Albany, Nixle has only been in use for a couple of months -- and as of last week, Smith says about 196 people in the city were signed up to receive alerts. He says if more people sign up, the APD will use it more.
As we've mentioned in the past, Albany police have had a crime map for a few years, but it's challenging to use. So providing targeted updates and a monthly breakdown of neighborhood crime stats is a step in the right direction. It could be easier to use (there has to be a smoother way to opt out of all those neighborhood reports).
We'd still like to see this sort of information posted online for anyone to access. Even better: a feed of updates and incidents tagged with geographic information. Other cities -- notably New York City -- have been moving toward publishing public data in ways that make it easier to residents and developers use and build upon.
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