SAN ANTONIO – In three weeks, residents said they're seeing better coverage and communication from the Bexar County Sheriff's Office since the law enforcement agency joined the Nextdoor app.
The Nextdoor app allows neighbors to talk about community issues, especially crime.
Connie Wallace and Joseph White have lived in separate Northeast Bexar County neighborhoods for about 20 years.
"We've had some things stolen from our car. We left it unlocked one time. That taught us a lesson," Wallace said.
"I think the root of it would be the criminal mischief, breaking and entering, robberies," White said.
Wallace and White live near a Whataburger where a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed a month ago. They say violent crime in the general area has spiked.
"It's close, and we're very concerned," Wallace said. "There's a lot of things going on here in the area of town on Rittiman and Foster Road and 78."
White's greatest concern is for his children.
"I hate to see that there's been so much crime, so much negative activity going on. And it actually hurt me because my son came to the point where he told us a few days ago that he's almost scared to come out and play."
Their area is one that Sheriff Javier Salazar is focusing on. Salazar said he already plans to visit those neighborhoods next week to talk about crime prevention.
"We want to make sure we're interacting with these folks on a one-on-one basis. And letting them know that, just as important as it is to you, it's important to us to address it on a county-wide basis," Salazar said.
Wallace is on the Nextdoor app and was thrilled to find out that BCSO joined it a month ago.
"They've always been very prompt when I had to use them, and it's fantastic. I love that idea," she said.
White isn't on Nextdoor yet, but said he now wants to join because the sheriff's department joined it.
He's not alone.
Since BCSO joined Nextdoor, nearly 10,000 county residents have signed up for the app. Most of them are in areas where crime is a consistent conversation on Nextdoor. Seven county neighborhoods have also joined, meaning more than 98 percent of Bexar County neighborhoods now use Nextdoor.
"We'll proactively work where people are letting us know about," Salazar said. "We may get a traffic complaint, 'I've got racers going up and down my street. I've got people running a certain stop sign by my school.' We're instantaneously able to direct resources to that."
Salazar said he now gets crime tips sent as private next-door messages.
"Some of the things we've gotten have been reports of drug crimes, drug trafficking," he said.
Salazar said that he or anyone else who posts on behalf of the Bexar County Sheriff's Office cannot see public comments unless it is in response to a BCSO post.
"The only things that we can see are responses to what we posted. So if you're posting about a suspicious vehicle in the neighborhood, I'm not necessarily going to see that. If you send it to us as a private message, then we'll see it," he explained.
Even if a resident sends a message to BCSO on Nextdoor, the agency cannot see their personal information unless they send it through a message.
Nextdoor reports that BCSO has posted 10 times in the past month, and received nearly 650 replies and 6,000 thanks.
The majority of what the agency posts is preventive information. For example, Salazar is replicating what he's called a successful movement used in other cities. It's called the 9 p.m. routine.
"We just hash tag out, #9PMRoutine, just to get people in the routine of, do a sweep of your car, remove valuables from your car, make sure you lock it. Make sure you take the keys. And a lot of the times, we'll get replies saying, 'Man thank you. I forgot I left my backpack in my car,'" he said.
"Being informed is a good start," White said. "A lot of us are really trying to make a difference, trying to raise children. It's nice to know we have that additional support."
Salazar said the idea to join Nextdoor came from his last job at the San Antonio Police Department, where he said he had an integral part in creating the department's social media presence, which included joining Nextdoor.
SAPD joined Nextdoor three years ago. When asked about improvements or changes since joining the app, an SAPD public information officer sent this statement:
"We have had a lot of community engagement, and metrics show that we have had a very high growth rate for the amount of residents joining since we began our membership. We use Nextdoor for crime prevention tips and other information. Our other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will continue to be utilized as they have been. We are in the process of updating our Nextdoor maps to reflect new city boundaries that were affected by recent annexations. This update will also include the service areas and the individual patrol districts so that our SAFFE officers can post directly to the people that the post content affects the most. All SAFFE units are set to receive in-house training and additional training from Nextdoor by February of 2018."
Salazar said only positive things can come from overlapping of SAPD and BCSO being on Nextdoor.
Even though social media is a great crime tool, Salazar wants to emphasize that anyone trying to report crime happening right then needs to call 911 or the sheriff's office line at 210-335-6000. A post on social media may not reach BCSO in time, he said. Anyone within the city limits can call 210-207-7273.