Neighborhood app
Pictured (l-r): Joe Panarello, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, Joseph Porcelli (at podium), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and James Skopek.

IB/Perrotta

Neighborhood app

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
1/17/2019


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Officials recently announced a partnership with Nextdoor, a social networking service for neighborhoods, to help improve community relations and improve countywide communications and safety. 

This latest initiative, officials said, looks to allow the Suffolk County Police Department to use Nextdoor in order to create a “virtual neighborhood watch” and share important and instant public safety updates, emergency notifications, news, services and programs with county residents and communities. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, during a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 10, at the Suffolk County Police Department Headquarters in Yaphank, cited Suffolk’s “historically low” crime rates. 

Total crime in the county has dropped 28 percent since 2014, according to reports. Suffolk saw a record-breaking drop in crime rates in 2017. This trend continued into 2018. The number of violent crimes went down an additional 22.5 percent and property crime decreased an additional 11 percent, reports say. 

Bellone, in part, credited “community engagement” and technology for the decreasing crime rates, adding that the Nextdoor initiative will act as “another tool” to help continue the downward trend. 

Joe Panarello, an East Patchogue resident since 1959, spoke in support of the social networking service during last week’s conference. Panarello recalled, since joining Nextdoor about two years ago, a story where a young boy in his community went missing, and through the app, neighbors were able to organize a search party. 

The child was eventually located. There had been a lack of communication between the boy’s mother and grandmother, who had taken him home with her to Queens without telling anyone. “I was proud to be a part of the community that night,” Panarello said, looking back on how his neighborhood was able to come together. 

The service is also marketed for non-emergency situations. Panarello, for example, said he once used the network to get word out to local residents about free firewood after a storm brought down a few trees near his property. 

SCPD is the first local law enforcement agency on Long Island and the largest in the tri-state area to partner with Nextdoor, according to officials. 

During last week’s press conference, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart explained that the partnership between SCPD and Nextdoor officially began in December of last year. Hart said using this service allows different precincts and the communities they service to focus on issues that are unique to their respective areas. The service is free for the department and residents, Hart added.

More than 60,000 residents and 500 neighborhoods in Suffolk County are currently connected through the social networking platform, officials said. For context, there were just under 1.5 million people living in Suffolk County in 2017, according to the United States Census Bureau. 

Christine Sarni, president of the Greater Sayville Civic Association, said she downloaded the Nextdoor app over a year ago, adding that she was invited to do so by a neighbor. “To be honest, I looked at [the app] in the beginning but totally forgot it existed,” she said. “I feel it is rather similar to Facebook and does not offer enough to be an alternative or additional resource.” However, upon revisiting the app, Sarni said the 5th Precinct’s recent postings are much appreciated.  

Glenn Carbello, from the Islip North Community Watch Group, said he has heard of Nextdoor but isn’t a member. He said that individuals are what make up an efficient neighborhood watch, but supports any additional tools that could help get as much information out to as many people as possible. “If it can help keep our children safe and drug dealers off the streets, I’m all for it,” he added. 

Nextdoor, which is based in San Francisco, was founded in 2008 and launched in the United States in 2011. In the last few years, their service has also become available in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. 

In 2015, concerns about Nextdoor being used for racial profiling in neighborhoods throughout the country made national headlines. 

In the year that followed, Nextdoor officials said that through a “series of product improvements” they reduced racial profiling on their platform by 75 percent. These improvements included changing its user interface and making it harder for users to create race-based posts. Officials, according to a 2016 website posting, also encourage members to “stop and think before posting.” 

That same year, Nextdoor released a new set of community guidelines, which requires users to verify their address and belong only to online communities that match their geographic neighborhood. 

Joseph Porcelli, a Nextdoor representative, said the administration holds users accountable for their posts, due to the possibility that some postings may contain racist sentiments.  

Hart, who stressed that Nextdoor isn’t an alternative for calling 911, said the department monitors all comments pertaining to Suffolk County, adding that they have not observed any indication of racial profiling. 

More than 180,000 communities and 1,400 public agencies, mostly police districts, across the United States use the platform, according to Porcelli and other reports.