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Suffolk cops partner with online neighborhood social network

The Suffolk police department is the first law enforcement agency on Long Island to partner with Nextdoor, a website that bills itself as "the private social network for your neighborhood."

Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart announced a partnership with Nextdoor on Thursday. Nextdoor is a private social network for communities that will allow Suffolk County police to get information out to specific neighborhoods. (Credit: James Carbone)

The Suffolk County Police Department has partnered with an online neighborhood-by-neighborhood social network to increase the force’s community relations efforts. 

The department is the first on Long Island to work with Nextdoor, officials said. The partnership launched in December and more than 60,000 residents in 500 neighborhoods in Suffolk County use the platform. The FDNY and New York City Emergency Management Department also use Nextdoor.

"We like to think of it as a neighborhood watch for the 21st century,” County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday morning at a news conference at police headquarters in Yaphank. “This is another tool in our belt.”

Officials said community engagement could help keep the county at historic crime lows. Suffolk saw its violent crime rate, which includes murder, rape, robbery and felony assault, decline 28 percent since 2014. 

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said she met Joseph Porcelli, Nextdoor’s public agency lead, at a conference in October. The platform is free for the department and users. 

“This is an opportunity for our precincts to focus on specific issues that neighborhoods are interested in,” Hart said. 

Hart can send out countywide messages — like she did on New Year’s Eve — and precinct commanders can put out their own posts for individual communities.The commanders post community meeting recaps, inform residents about emergencies and flag them to the department’s services.

"Our mission is to create safer, stronger and happier communities," Porcelli said. "Those neighbors will know what's happening, what the department's doing and what they can do to help make a difference in crime in their neighborhood."

Nextdoor’s website bills itself as “the private social network for your neighborhood.”

Users must verify their addresses through a postcard or phone call and can belong only to online communities that match their geographic neighborhood. Posts can vary from public safety alerts to residents seeking a baby sitter. 

“Neighbors can really be helpful to each other,” Porcelli said. 

Media reports also detailed Nextdoor users in Seattle engaging in racial profiling in their neighborhoods.

"We monitor the comments and have not observed any indication of racial profiling," Suffolk police said in a statement. "Nextdoor is not intended to be used to report a suspicious person or other crime. We encourage all residents to call 911 if they see someone suspicious or to use our nonemergency line of 631-852-COPS if they feel the situation isn’t an emergency."

Police officials in Clarkstown, in Rockland County, and Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, who use Nextdoor said they had no racial profiling issues.

Clarkstown Det. Peter Walker said he used the network "to provide accurate, real-time, direct information right from the police department."

In Mount Vernon, Commissioner Shawn Harris said he posted about road closures and community meetings, as well as tips and crime alerts.

"Nextdoor is more neighborhood-specific [than other social media] and that's what I like," he said. "Different neighborhoods have different concerns."

Joe Panarello, 72, of East Patchogue joined Nextdoor about two years ago. Hesaid the network helped to mobilize residents in his neighborhood to look for a missing child, who was ultimately found in Queens with his grandmother.

"I was so proud to be a member of the community that night," he said,

Panarello said he also had used the network to post about free firewood for neighbors after a storm brought down two trees on his street.

Nextdoor is based in San Francisco and used internationally, according to its website.

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