By Brett Ashley Hawkins
While driving on the northbound 405 freeway on a Tuesday morning, several drivers were caught in traffic backups when they attempted to take the Palo Verde Avenue exit. Most morning radio traffic updates failed to mention such an issue, but one networking medium sent out an alert that read, “Commuters! Avoid the Palo Verde Avenue off-ramp from the northbound 405 Freeway. Heavy congestion. Seek another route.” The message was sent to the email accounts and phones of several people by the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) through Nixle, the first authenticated service for location-based information.
By entering one’s city name or ZIP code into Nixle’s database, one can subscribe to receive updates via text message or email specifically from local public safety agencies, municipal governments, schools, and law-enforcement departments. The service is secure and unites municipal agencies and community organizations in prompt statements sent to their residents. Citizens can subscribe by texting their ZIP code to 888777 or registering at the Nixle website by creating a username and password (created by submitting a full name and an email address) to receive email updates.
The LBPD began using Nixle four months ago upon LBPD Chief of Police Jim McDonnell’s suggestion to use the networking tool due to its success within the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD); McDonnell served with the LAPD for 28 years. “[McDonnell] suggested [the LBPD] use Nixle, so we began researching it,” said Sergeant Rico Fernandez of the LBPD. “Now we use it.”
Though updates are not constant throughout the day, Fernandez assures subscribers that only updates of vital importance are posted to avoid Nixle being perceived as an annoyance through a lot of mundane messages and reports in a short amount of time. Instead, Fernandez feels that being selective about what information is posted on Nixle will make the most impact, as alerts won’t come out as often and will be perceived as more significant when they do surface. “We fax news releases and do email blasts, and now Nixle is a part of the standard process for getting the word out,” Fernandez said.
Traffic updates aren’t the only concerns on which the LBPD sheds light. Another previous update read: “Police and fire arson investigators are seeking suspect for multiple arson incidents in South and East Long Beach.” Nixle’s use of frequent status updates is similar to those of the social-networking websites Facebook and Twitter. However, unlike those sites, whose content is generated through the whims and personal lives of their end users, the purpose of Nixle’s updates is to inform its users of actual public-safety concerns.
The LBPD has yet to use Nixle for releasing information about suspects. “Most of our reports are traffic-based,” Fernandez said. “We’re currently not putting up suspect information. That’s something we have to discuss with the detective.”
Nixle was founded by Firas Emachah and Craig Mitnick in 2007. The project began to grow rapidly upon Nixle’s partnering with the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) to combine all local, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies into one computer-based message-switching system. Since its creation, over 3,000 agencies in 49 states employ Nixle as one of their means of reporting community and public-safety information.
The tool has proved quite useful in helping citizens become proactive in missing-persons cases and providing aid for local disturbances. Resident Trevor Schelling of Sioux County, Iowa received a Nixle alert of a missing five-year-old girl and was able to put the girl in the hands of the sheriff’s office after finding her half a mile from her home. Also, the Fayetteville North Carolina Police Department issued an alert profiling an armed robber, William Bruce Clark. Fayetteville residents quickly responded to the alert, and Clark was promptly apprehended.
Nixle may not be for everyone though. Older generations will only receive such important updates should they be technologically savvy with a cell phone or with a computer. Nixle alerts are sent out via text messaging and email with no alternative for those not up-to-date with the ever-shifting technology movement.
If used correctly by the citizens of Long Beach and Signal Hill, the LBPD’s alerts to residents may help improve public awareness and increase overall safety. The actions taken by those receiving such alerts can help subside any escalating or unprecedented safety or community issues. “Right now we’re getting to know Nixle,” Fernandez said. “The more we like it and use it, we’ll find out how to suit our needs for it.”