Technology is constantly changing the way lives function in the 21st century, and now it is changing the way law enforcement interacts with the community.
In February, Norfolk Police announced they would be the first police department in Virginia to partner with the program “Neighbors” by the company Ring. The program is aimed to to get the community engaged in solving and preventing crime through an app where they can report crime-related information.
And now, some police departments in the Historic Triangle are doing the same.
Officer Charles Ericsson of the Williamsburg Police Department said that while the department is not currently using the app, they are in talks with the company to form a partnership.
“We see this as a valuable tool to be added to our social media presence to increase communication between residents and with law enforcement to know what is going on in our neighborhoods,” Ericsson said.
The app is designed to be simple for the public to use. Here’s how it works: Residents download the Neighbors app by Ring, make a profile with their address, which then allows them to set up a “Geo-Fence.” This will create a geographic barrier for the area alerts residents want to receive.
Users of the app can anonymously post crime-related information, including photos and videos that neighbors can see.
Right now, Ericsson said the department currently uses Facebook, Twitter, the Nextdoor app and “good old fashioned foot patrols” to monitor activity in the community. But, he said, partnering with the app would be the next step in the right direction and once the partnership is negotiated, the department will announce it to the community.
Social media has become an entire system of conveying and learning information in police departments in the past few years, and at the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office developed a “robust” media platform to communicate with residents, said Sgt. Adam Cooper of YPSO.
The sheriff’s office said there are not currently any plans for a partnership with the Neighbors app but they have their own app that is used to report crimes.
The app allows residents to submit crime tips, request vacation house checks, file traffic complaints and learn more about the sheriff and sheriff’s office, according to its description online.
“If we get a call from a person with a RING device who is reporting a suspicious person they generally share that video with us via email or other means,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the sheriff’s office still advises residents to call the emergency number for crimes in progress.
“We still believe that one on one contact with citizens is still the best way to receive information,” Cooper said. “And because of the size of York County we are fortunately still able to do that.”
At the James City County Police Department, social media functions differently for reporting. Because of a current policy within the county, all county departments have to fall under the same social media page, said spokeswoman Stephanie Williams.
However, Williams said, that policy is currently under review and could change in the future.
“I think it’s a little different for us because we don’t have a dedicated presence on social media,” Williams said. “With the policy review, we are hoping it will let us engage more with the community on social media.”
All three law enforcement agencies reiterated the best way to contact the police during an emergency is by calling 911.