Community policing programs like “Neighborhood Watch” have helped San Mateo police tackle crime, but social media is redefining how the department responds to criminal activity.
The San Mateo Police Department joined social media in early 2012. Since then, the department’s total followers on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms has surpassed 54,000, with the most users of any platform now engaging the SMPD through Nextdoor.com.
Capt. Dave Norris, who joined the department in 1993, said the department has made significant efforts to expand its overall social media presence, and that they rely most on the private, hyper-local Nextdoor platform because of the website’s rules on verifying members.
“When we look at our metrics and our numbers with Nextdoor, these are real people who live in the city of San Mateo who are receiving direct information from us. … Who are helping us to impact crime. Who we are able to provide good preventative information to.”
“We will get calls, we will get tips. They’re not always perfect. They don’t always match up. But we do get a response from the community every time we put these things out so we know that that leverage we’re putting into that is working.”
While social media can be an asset to law enforcement when community members have a platform to share their opinions, it can also be a stage where bias and false suspicion can take root.
“We are very sensitive to what has been described in other venues as weaponization of the police. In other words, you’re calling because it’s suspicious but you’re not giving us a reason why you think it’s suspicious.”
When it comes to Nextdoor, Norris emphasizes that due to the site’s privacy settings, investigators cannot view community discussions unless members opt to forward a message to the department.
Once a message is forwarded to police, they will reach out directly to the concerned resident to assess the situation.