Friday, December 9, 2011

Crime Alerts: What's Best?

When I was a stay-at-home mom back in the 1960s, we had a remarkable crime detection system on our street in what was then Passaic Township. It was called Looking Out the Kitchen Window. A strange car on Old Forge Road instantly came under the scrutiny of sharp-eyed housewives and woe betide anyone who was seen skulking around on foot.

But that was then.

At the public safety meeting held Sunday by Council President Annie McWilliams, the notion of texting crime alerts to neighbors came up, she told the City Council Monday. McWilliams suggested use of a text messaging service if there was a spike in crime, such as burglaries or car break-ins. Residents in historic districts or neighborhood associations could put their e-mail addresses on notification systems such as one used in Boston, she said.

Councilman William Reid said he thought the blogs and the Courier News should be notified of spikes in crime.

In public comment, I recalled controversies over the police blotter when I was a reporter. A lot of people objected to seeing police reports in the newspaper because they felt it made Plainfield look bad. On the other hand, if there was a rash of purse-snatchings or muggings, I personally wanted to be aware of such trends so that I as a resident could take extra precautions.

I suggested Monday that public safety alerts could be posted on the Police Division's web site, although upon checking later I was not sure it was working the way I remembered it.

The discussion was brief Monday and no conclusions were reached. I was surprised that no one raised the question of the so-called "digital divide" that separates those with Blackberries and iPhones from some of the rest of us. There are systems that include land line notifications (such as Notify NYC).

Out where my daughter lives, West Seattle Blog posts crime reports that pinpoint trends. This is a collaborative effort between police and the blog, and comments by others add to the information. The Courier News has resumed publishing Plainfield police blotter items, but for local blogs such listings might be problematic, as linkages with the police would have to be established. Some neighborhood associations publish their own alerts, accessible only to members.

While new ways of alerting citizens are being explored, the best defense is personal awareness and precautions, such as not leaving valuables in cars, securing points of entry to homes and garages and watching out for suspicious people on the street. Many times when I was still working and coming home late, I would use the Police Division's escort service if I saw anything out of the ordinary near my home. I would go to headquarters and wait for a police car to follow me home safely.

Both Police Director Martin Hellwig and Lt. Brian Newman attended the public safety meeting Sunday, McWilliams said. Perhaps there will be a follow-up in the New Year.



  1. The Hillside Ave and the Van Wyck Brooks neighborhoods keep neighbors informed via email. This is an informal process. It's certainly not as instant as texting, however it serves as a good general alert system to create wider awareness.

    There have been a lot of burglaries - possibly also drug dealing in parked cars - in both districts in recent months.


  2. Texting is good because it does not require internet access nor a smart phone.

    Perhaps the police can start their own blog – seriously.