Last week, a quiet neighborhood in Menlo Park, Calif., was disrupted as police chased two armed men fleeing from the scene of a nearby jewelry store robbery. But this neighborhood was connected in a special way that kept residents safe during the four-hour ordeal.
Nextdoor, an online social network designed exclusively for neighborhoods, was the only source of information during the crisis. Nextdoor has been used to find babysitters, get rid of old toys and plan holiday events, but on this occasion, it may have saved lives.
The crime occurred in the afternoon when many parents were at work and kids were arriving home from school. As police converged on the street, Salim Shaikh, the man who organized Nextdoor among his 89 neighbors, stepped outside to find out what was happening after seeing police cars whiz by.
An officer told him about the armed suspects. Shaikh told TechNewsDaily that he immediately sent an urgent alert via Nextdoor that sent a text to neighbors' cellphones.
The text prompted immediate actions that would otherwise have been impossible.
"My neighbor Bill was able to call his nanny and tell her not to take his daughter outside," Shaikh said. And other neighbors who were closer to the action, took photos and posted them to Nextdoor so everyone, including those that were locked indoors and those that were kept from returning home, could stay informed, he said.
The suspects were caught. No one was harmed.
Kelsey Grady, a spokeswoman for NextDdoor said that posts about crime and safety is the fastest growing category on the network. The usefulness of the virtual neighborhood watch-type network has spread beyond residents and gained police attention.
"The police know they can't be everywhere at once," Grady said. Nextdoor has partnered with more than 60 local city governments across the country, including Dallas, the ninth-largest city in the U.S., where the company has trained 100 officers to use Nextdoor.
Grady said that the program is also helping to bring neighbors closer together.
In her San Francisco neighborhood, not many people know one another. Through Nextdoor, she was invited to a meeting to start a neighborhood watch program and more than 40 people attended.
"That just wouldn't be possible without Nextdoor," she said. "I guess the guy could have put up flyers, but who has time for that?"