Are Neighborhood Watch Apps Worth Using?

So you want a high-tech, new solution to neighborhood safety. A few apps offer just that.

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Nextdoor’s the old kid on the block, having launched in the US in October 2011. It’s free, and it calls itself “the private social network for you, your neighbors and your community. It’s the easiest way for you and your neighbors to talk online and make all of your lives better in the real world.” Streety launched in January of 2018, and uses Vivint security cameras to monitor street views of neighborhoods. Both apps are free. Both apps rely on a critical mass of neighbors joining in order to work effectively. And both have their issues. 

In May, Ring launched the newest kid on the block, Neighbors. Neighbors is an app that “gives you real-time crime and safety alerts from your neighbors, the Ring News team and local law enforcement,” according to Ring’s blog. Moreover, if you see something suspicious, you can “anonymously post a text, photo or video to keep your community on the lookout.” Which sounds like a good idea. Except my neighbor’s idea of suspicious might be “teen walking down the road.” When anyone shares an alert, be it police or Ring or that old bat next door, you get an alert. Which you can then share with family and friends. They claim “millions of users already” with the free app.

It’s a bit too early to weigh in on Neighbors, but the similar Streety has a lot of neat features. It uses your neighbor’s outdoor-aimed cameras to a distance of about 1/6 of a mile to monitor real-time street views. This can help you find a lost pet oe a lost kid. It can help you figure out who jacked your Amazon package or who got your delivery by mistake.  Streety recommends “watching a neighbor’s house while they are away.” You can check in on the kids while they play, and “you and your neighbors can resolve issues and answer questions by easily requesting, approving, and sharing video clips.” You don’t have to have a camera to participate, and they verify that users actually live in the neighborhood. 

[Want some real tips for your neighborhood security? Click here.]

But Streety is an arm of the security company Vivint, and uses only a network of their security cameras. Therefore, you’re relying on your neighbors to not only have outdoor security cameras pointed in the right direction at the right time, but also to have the right kind of camera. You don’t want to be the only neighbor with a camera. Or one of only two people with a camera. This only works with a critical mass of people with cameras. While there aren’t hard numbers out there, Streety doesn’t seem to have that critical mass quite yet. 

Or you could use Nextdoor. 

Nextdoor is an app that aims “to provide a trusted platform where neighbors work together to build stronger, safer, happier communities, all over the world.” I tried to join. It wanted my email address and my password. It wanted me to invite one of my contacts, plus three emergency contacts via email, who would be asked to join Nextdoor if they were not already members. Yikes — that’s a lot of information for me to pass over to a random network. I declined to do so, and my application stalled. I guess I won’t be enjoying the benefits of Nextdoor anytime soon. 

These benefits include, as Nextdoor likes to ballyhoo: “Quickly get the word out about a break-in, organize a Neighborhood Watch Group, track down a trustworthy babysitter, find out who does the best paint job in town, ask for help keeping an eye out for a lost dog, find a new home for an outgrown bike, [and] finally call that nice man down the street by his first name.” Nextdoor does so by having everyone verifying their real name and address.

I don’t know about you, but my local neighborhood Facebook group — the local city group — does all those things pretty darn well. And without the drama. There’s a notorious Facebook site called “The Best of Nextdoor” which posts anonymous screenshots of real Nextdoor posts…and the results are hilarious. People can also mark things as “urgent” that strictly speaking, are wildly not urgent. As someone once told basically me, “A stray dog is not urgent. A rabid dog is.” 

These urgent alerts immediately get to everyone via SMS text, sort of like a missing child alert. And these alerts may involve your neighbor complaining about a black man driving a car slowly through the neighborhood (it’s actually been mentioned on private Nextdoor threads I’ve seen). 

Rather than using these electronic doohickeys, get out off your smartphone, move into the burning rays of the sunshine, and meet your neighbors face-to-face. Get involved in neighborhood programs. Take walks. Offer to help elderly folks and learn whose kids belong to whom, and which dogs belong to which people. Everyone knows, for example, that we have two big German Shepherds, and when one got out the back gate the other day, a neighbor immediately loaded him in her car and brought him home. He had lost his tag the day before.

That’s neighborliness and watching out for each other and making neighborhoods safer. Keep your bushes trimmed. Encourage people to get burglar alarms, and start a neighborhood watch. But most of all: know your people. It’s them who’ll help you in the end.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on Time.com.

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