Online system connects neighborhoods, law enforcement
By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Three of the county's law enforcement agencies are supporting a web-based alert system for crime reporting, and a fourth may also be on board soon.
The Vero Beach Police Department began working with the online neighborhood alert service UNeighbors in October and presented the program to Vero Beach City Council members during the Dec. 4 meeting.
The Indian River County Sheriff's Office and the Sebastian Police Department have been using the service to assist in crime solving and improving communication with neighborhoods in their jurisdictions for several months prior, and the Fellsmere Police Department is looking into the program as well, said Officer John Morrison, Vero Beach Police Department public information officer.
The power of UNeighbors was evidenced when in October the Vero Beach Police Department posted a message on the website about a bank robbery. A user was able to identify the suspect and the next day the suspect was arrested.
The free service provides two-way communication between members of the community and members of law enforcement about crime issues such as sex offenders and crime alerts, missing persons, lost pets and safety information.
Users can sign onto the website to leave their own observations and information or to see what others in the surrounding area have reported, or they can sign up to receive information alerts via automated phone calls or text messages, Officer Morrison said.
In addition to choosing a type of alert, users can also choose what agencies and types of alerts they want to receive.
Before the UNeighbors program, the fastest way the police department could spread the word about crimes was through an email blast to residents who have signed up to receive them. In all there are about 600 different email addresses in that database.
The department also spread the word using local media such as newspapers, television and radio, but the immediacy of spreading the word about an incident can often make the difference in the end result of a case.
All of those forms of communication will continue to be used by local law enforcement, but the quickness of the UNeighbors program, plus the variety of types of alerts, emails, texts or phone messages, makes this a huge boon for law enforcement, Officer Morrison said.
UNeighbors was created in 2010 and has been used by law enforcement agencies in Brevard County for nearly a year, has 30,000 users and has met with great success, said Shawn Andreas, co-founder of the website.
There are 40,000 registered users in Indian River County.
The program is free to users because of sponsors that pay the costs of running the program in exchange for advertisement on the website, Mr. Andreas said.
People can report issues either using their names or anonymously. The email addresses and contact information entered by the users are kept confidential and not considered public record, Officer Morrison said.
There are 77 requests to implement the program in cities around Florida, Mr. Andreas said.
For more information about UNeighbors, call (888) 805-3299 or visit www.uneighbors.com.