January 03. 2013 10:47AM

Nixle alerts are catching on with police

Brendan Clogston, bclogston041@gmail.com

The Internet keeps us constantly, even incessantly informed. Now, a free notification system called Nixle is being adopted by government departments across the state and country, allowing police departments to join the flow.

Nixle is a free, privately owned notification service which allows verified agencies to instantly send messages to residents via texts, emails, or through their website in a manner analogous to Twitter. Residents do not receive the notifications automatically, but rather must form an account with Nixle and subscribe to the notifications.

Since its founding in 2007, the San Francisco company has enjoyed success. As of Aug. 1, the service had approximately 6,000 agencies registered with 1 million subscribers. The program has also received press since for its facilitating the recovery of missing people and locating fugitives.

In Sioux County, Iowa, for instance, a Nixle notification on led to the safe return of a missing 5-year-old girl. Trevor Schelling, a resident, subscribed to the department’s Nixle alert, spotted her while driving and called the sheriff’s office.

New Hampshire police departments are starting to catch the buzz. The Pembroke Police Department started using the system in December, and Candia police are planning on launching a Nixle account sometime in the near future. Fire and police departments in Manchester, Bedford, Goffstown, Bow, Hopkinton, and Litchfield are among those who already have accounts, some of whom use them extensively.

How the program is used, if it finds use at all, however, can depend on the department, as is the case with any information tool. Many police departments can be found on Twitter, but most of the smaller departments’ accounts fizzle out after the first half dozen tweets or so. The departments have never quite found a way to integrate the tool. The same is true of Nixle. The Deerfield Police Department’s Nixle account has been dormant for more than two years, with no notices in the archives except a few bi-monthly tests.

Then there are departments like Auburn, who have made active, if cautious use, of the program. Since they adopted the program a little less than a year ago, Auburn Police have generally sent out between one and three Nixle alerts a month.

The reason for Auburn’s activeness seems to be, somewhat counter-intuitively, that they’ve limited their use of it, saving Nixle alerts for specific kinds of information that have a tangible impact on the community.

“We like it,” said Auburn Sgt. Charles Chabot. “We try not to use it for every little thing that comes along because we don’t want people to be desensitized to the Nixle alert. We try to use it for something important or relatively major. I think anything that can keep the community better in tune to what’s going on that might affect their daily lives – I think that’s a plus.”

Specifically, there are two kinds of alerts Auburn tends to send out: traffic and road alerts, and suspect information, the latter being directed primarily to the town’s Neighborhood Watch.

Auburn has a large and active Neighborhood Watch group, with more than 350 members.

Formed after a spike in burglaries in 2011, the group has been credited with a decline in break-ins over 2012.

“We’re pretty actively involved with our neighborhood watch groups,” said Chabot. “They’re our eyes and ears when we can’t be there, so if somebody happens to see a suspect after an alert, that’s pretty useful to us.”

Nixle frequently sees this kind of use from Police Departments. The program has also been credited with the arrest of multiple fugitives across the country, such as Adam Yeager, wanted in Amarillo, Texas, for aggravated robbery and probation violation. A Nixle subscriber recognized Yeager at a mall after receiving the alert, and sent in the tip which allowed Amarillo Police to make the arrest.

While road alerts may seem less glamorous than the capture of the fugitive, however, they are no less I the spirit of Nixle and technology’s power: keeping residents informed in real time, allowing them to make the most mundane sort of everyday decision with readily available, up-to-date information.

“We’re in a techy age now where people like to have everything at their fingertips,” said Chabot. “So I think if somebody knows their road is going to be closed because of a water main breaking, it gives them the opportunity to make alternate arrangements, or if something bad happened in the school, I think people would appreciate the knowledge.”

Nixle is available as an application on Apple devices (sending push notifications), a text service, and an e-mail notification service.

To sign up for Nixle alerts, go to www.nixle.com.