NORMAN — The Norman Police Department has joined several other Oklahoma law enforcement and government agencies in using a Nixle, a digital mass notification system.
The free www.nixle.com service allows agencies to issue instant alerts to subscribed residents via text messages and emails.
The Norman Police Department had not yet issued its first Nixle notification by Monday evening, but Police Chief Keith Humphrey said he aims to keep the public aware.
“Our goal is really to improve our communication,” Humphrey said. “I think we have really good communications with the community, but this will enhance it.”
Lauri Stevens, a social media strategist at LAwS Communications, a Boston-area company, said law enforcement agencies nationwide are beginning to embrace this mindset. The movement even has a name: the blue wave of change.
“I think that law enforcement agencies are picking up on social media exponentially faster than they were a year ago,” Stevens said. “Even the ones that are thinking they don’t want to go there realize they have to. Social media isn’t really a choice; it’s like saying I’m not going to use email.”
She distinguished Nixle from social media — which differs from Nixle in its interactivity — though she said the service is often a first step.
As agencies experience success with Nixle, she said, some of the more social officers begin to wonder what might happen if their departments moved to other services such as Facebook — which Norman police already have done.
“There are a few maverick cops around the world who have built really strong relationships with citizens through social media,” Stevens said. “It’s a real organic sort of process. Agencies, individual officers are seeing the benefits of doing that, so they’re being pulled in that direction to be more social, more interactive.”
She said these social media relationships, which encourage officers to communicate with the community, can help solve crimes.
Humphrey, who said he’s heard of other agencies having great success with the free service, agrees.
“Throughout the country, Nixle and social media have resulted in solving some criminal act or helped locate a missing child,” the chief said. “I’m always getting some type of information that Nixle helped, or this was helped with Facebook or Twitter.”
Humphrey said his office will focus its alerts on emergency situations, including major traffic accidents, suspects on the loose and school lockdowns.
All Nixle alerts from the police department will be issued only after the review and approval of the chief or his designee, whom Humphrey said likely will be Capt. Tom Easley.
“The less access to your (social media) site for people putting in information, the better it is for everybody,” Humphrey said. “Departments have protocols in place limiting the dissemination of information. You’ve got to have those policies in place.”
Though the Norman Police Department is new to the service, the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office has been using Nixle since March.
Meghan McCormick, sheriff’s office spokeswoman, said this makes her office one of the first law enforcement agencies in the Cleveland County area to enroll. Still, she said her office has identified some pitfalls.
McCormick said her office has protocols in place for communications sent out through the service. Despite the best-laid plans, however, some inaccurate information still slips through.
In May, the sheriff’s office sent out seven text message and email alerts through the service. Three of those alerts were about reports of suspicious and criminal activities in the area of Oklahoma City’s Lakeridge Run addition, in far northwest Cleveland County.
At least two of the Lakeridge Run reports contained inaccuracies.
In early May, the office rescinded a statement, from a May 1 alert, about the presence of a crime ring.
“We should have taken the sentence out (about the crime ring) before we sent the alert about the suspicious vehicle” in Lakeridge Run, McCormick said. “A crime ring hasn’t been reported to us.”
Also, a May 29 alert incorrectly identified Lakeridge Run as the location of a larceny rather than the bordering Hunter’s Place addition where it really took place, neighborhood association officials said.
Despite the errors, McCormick said officials at the sheriff’s office took measures to verify reports before circulating them to the public.
“Once we receive a report — once we get an email or someone calls us with information about something that happened — to corroborate that, we check it out,” McCormick said. “We attempt to corroborate that through sources.”
She also said she is among a limited number of sheriff’s officials with the authority to circulate Nixle alerts. Some patrol supervisors have access to the system, though McCormick said that’s a limited number.
McCormick said her office uses Nixle as a crime prevention tool which can generate leads when residents call in.
“We ask that people be alert to activity in their neighborhoods, or if they see anything suspicious to immediately call police or the sheriff’s office, and we will send a deputy to check that out,” McCormick said.