Neighborhood crime watches have been around since the 1970s. But these days, they’re increasingly going digital with apps and cameras, and local police departments are looking to plug in.
Police in Sandy Springs are among those watching the rise of crime talk on such social apps as Nextdoor — and seeking ways to better use it for crime prevention. At a recent High Point Civic Association meeting, Capt. Steve Rose, the commander of the Sandy Springs Police Department’s South District, talked about seeing residents on Nextdoor sharing stories about a suspicious character, but then all forgetting to call the police.
“The Nextdoor app seems to be the most popular app, and we have our own Nextdoor site as well as monitoring the individual community sites,” Rose said later in an email. “For us, the hope would be that we can almost directly communicate with any of the various HOAs or civic associations through their Nextdoor sites or their websites, because we can push out crime information, but also correct inaccurate information, which is all too common.”
As a wave of car-breaks and burglaries appears to move northward from Buckhead neighborhoods, old-fashioned crime watches are popular, too. But they’re still talking technology.
At a recent meeting of a Brookhaven homeowners association, according to one resident, the crowd was unusually large due to a number of car break-ins. The HOA discussed a new Georgia Power Co. program through which the power company plans to rent security cameras on its own power poles for surveillance of private property, with the feed accessible by police. The HOA was especially interested in a license-plate reader version of the camera.
The Georgia Power camera program, set to launch this spring, is still being planned quietly, its existence apparently first revealed by a discussion at a January Sandy Springs City Council meeting. Dunwoody police said they were not aware of the camera program, while Atlanta police said they were.
The company previously said the program will kick off with offerings only to commercial, not residential, property owners.
Georgia Power spokesperson John Kraft said company officials “continue to study and develop the options customers say they want from a service of this kind, including a license-plate reader option.”
Brookhaven police did not respond to questions. However, the department recently launched “Operation Plugged In,” a service allowing police access to private security cameras.
While social media can bring neighbors together, it also can cause potentially dangerous rumors to spread like wildfire. At the civic association meeting in Sandy Springs, Rose gave more details of a Brookhaven incident in January that began with a deliberately false report of a shooting. Sandy Springs officers were among those responding as part of the regional North Metro SWAT team.
Rose said that while police tried to figure out the situation, a resident on Twitter sent out a message about a supposed “active shooter.” That rumor, Rose said, led another resident to get out a shotgun for self-defense, which he then accidentally fired into his bed. SWAT members then surrounded that house, mistakenly thinking it was the non-existent gunman.
“The whole thing was a comedy of errors, but that can go sideways,” Rose said.
Meanwhile, local police departments encourage the formation of crime watches.
“We are going to review all of our current programs and jump-start those that have become inactive,” Rose said. “We are also going to design a new neighborhood watch sign. We will be replacing all of the existing signs with one uniform sign with our brand on it.”
Forming a crime watch in your area
Call a Crime Prevention Inspector for the Atlanta Police Department’s Zone 2 precinct at 404-848-7231.
See nnw.org and follow up with Officer Mark Stevens, the neighborhood watch liaison, at Mark.Stevens@dunwoodyga.gov.
South District residents can contact Community Service Officer Cory Begeal at firstname.lastname@example.org. North District residents can call 770-551-3309. If you don’t know which district you’re in, call police headquarters at 770-551-6900.