One neighborhood is taking advantage of a free social site to increase the safety of its community.

One neighborhood is taking advantage of a free social site to increase the safety of its community.

Last year, Denison resident Kory Kunkel was searching for an easy way to start a neighborhood watch when he heard of Nextdoor; a free website that, like Facebook, allows members to see posts and share information.

"In a nutshell it’s just a useful tool for neighbors to communicate," Kunkel said. "In today’s day and age nobody likes to go door to door, it just doesn’t happen anymore. So this is a great way for us to communicate quickly and easily and kind of get to know each other, plan events and compare notes. … It’s been a great tool."

Last winter, his neighborhood on Circle Drive in Denison experienced a series of vandalisms with broken mailboxes and vehicle break-ins. With Nextdoor, Kunkel and his neighbors had a tool in their arsenal to quickly gather facts and assess the damage.

"Stupidly, this was done on a night where it snowed, and you could see the lines in the snow, you could see the path that they took to every vehicle and back to the house that they started from," Kunkel said with a laugh. "And luckily that person (who owned the house) was on the Nextdoor site."

Through posting online queries to their neighborhood, the individuals affected from the break-ins were able to find out some guests had stayed over at the house and may have caused the vandalism.

"What that enabled us to do, immediately we knew who to send the police to, to at least question and start talking about this stuff," Kunkel said.

He also listed a time when a motorcycle would loudly ride through the neighborhood late at night. Using Nextdoor the owner of the motorcycle was found and asked to ride at an earlier time.

These sort of things are exactly the purpose of Nextdoor, said Danielle Styskal, communications associate for the site.

"Neighbors can use Nextdoor for a wide range of things — from the everyday things like finding a recommendation for a trusted babysitter or plumber, to more personal things like helping find a lost family pet, to critical things, like discussing a rash of break-ins in the neighborhood," she said in an email.

She cited a list of examples Nextdoor neighbors across the country have shared about how the site has helped them; from neighborhood break-ins in Phoenix and members meetings with police officers to share information, to a stolen lawn mower and yard furniture being located by a witness on Nextdoor who’d seen the items being stolen and had taken a photo.

Currently, 40 neighborhoods across the Texoma area have launched Nextdoor websites. Sherman makes up 13 of these virtual neighborhoods, and Denison accounts for six.

Each member using the site is verified so only people from a specific neighborhood can join and follow their community’s events and discussions. Kunkel said his Nextdoor neighborhood has increased to 64 members with 50 households represented, which Kunkel said has made a major difference.

"I’ve lived here for eight years and I knew maybe two names of my neighbors, and that’s just the way things are these days," he said. "… Now, we don’t all talk all the time, but at least we know what’s going on in the neighborhood. We can help each other if we need it. We can provide support if we need it, it’s just been great."

Social media sites are becoming a more popular way for neighborhood watch groups to form and help police fight crime. An article by CNN titled "Hyperlocal Apps Help Residents Fight Crime" lists Nextdoor as just one tool that a number of individuals find convenient to use for their safety.

Kunkel emphasized, however, that it wasn’t just used for crime and safety reasons, although they were certainly important aspects. The most important part of using the site, he said, was having the neighborhood come together and unite to form a real community.

"There’s strength in numbers, and if I know my neighbors and we all get along and we know what’s going on, not only can we help protect each other and watch out for each other and help the police watch out for the bad guys, because we know they’re there," he said. "… Plus it’s always good to have more friends."