The Sacramento Police Department has partnered with a social networking website to foster what it calls a "virtual neighborhood watch program."
"Neighborhoods that communicate are safe neighborhoods," said Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. at a news conference Thursday. "Now we have something that puts neighborhood watch on steroids."
Nextdoor is a website that connects residents of the same neighborhood to one another. It has been rolled out across the country, where it has often teamed up with police departments and municipal governments. At Thursday's news conference, Nextdoor representatives said that 100 neighborhoods in Sacramento are already online.
Sacramento police officials said they're not looking to become Big Brother. Police can use the network only to alert residents and initiate conversations, and cannot see the content of individual neighborhood pages, said Kelsey Grady, Nextdoor's director of communications.
"People can respond to police department posts, and police can see those replies and reply to them," Grady said.
Several Sacramento residents vouched for Nextdoor.
Sondra Betancourt, the head of the Ben Ali Community Association, said that people in her neighborhood used the network to discuss and strategize after a spate of mail thefts.
"They talked among themselves and they put up cameras," Betancourt said.
And Nextdoor bills itself as much more than a public safety tool.
According to the company's website, residents can use it to plan and share information about neighborhood events, recommend businesses and find neighbors with shared interests.
"People are chatting away about everything under the sun," said Dan Hood, who started a Nextdoor network for Upper Land Park.
Hood said Nextdoor's requirement that neighbors recruit 10 members in 15 days could prove onerous for some, but Nextdoor's representatives said that the time limit had been increased to 21 days - and even that is flexible.
"We wanted to avoid the 'empty bar' problem," said Nirav Tolia, Nextdoor's CEO.
The service is being provided at no cost to either the city or its users. Nextdoor has also created a free app for the iPhone, with an Android app scheduled to be released later this summer.
Tolia said that the company is not generating any revenue, but that it aims to make money within three years. He said that is in line with other social networks.
Police and Nextdoor representatives will hold community meetings over the next several weeks in every City Council district to introduce Sacramento residents to the website. The first meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Universal Technical Institute at 4100 Duckhorn Drive.
Earlier this week, the city police announced that the department had released its own iPhone app. Called SacPD Mobile, the app gives users a quick way to file complaints, commend officers, submit anonymous tips and browse lists of missing persons and most wanted criminals.
Call The Bee's Jack Newsham, (916) 321-1100. Follow him in Twitter @TheNewsHam.