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Saratoga Springs police use Internet service to send alerts

Saratoga Springs police use Internet service to send alerts

You can be closer than ever to the city police department, thanks to free e-mail and text message

You can be closer than ever to the city police department, thanks to free e-mail and text message alerts that debuted last week and a reverse 911 system that is in the planning stages.

People who sign up for the secure Web service at Nixle.com get police notifications about major traffic accidents that close roads, photos of missing endangered people or information about suspects at large.

To sign up, people enter their e-mail address or mobile phone number, or both, and the alerts are sent as e-mails or text messages.

“This is a way for us to put out what we think is important and hopefully to get some immediate results,” said police Chief Christopher Cole.

Cole said he had planned to start using the Web service Nixle during the weekend, but started early by posting the city snow emergency Tuesday evening.

Nixle is administered free to the police department. More than 3,800 public safety agencies and other organizations are registered to use the site.

The service allows police to target specific geographic locations, such as certain city blocks or housing developments.

The city also is working on a “reverse 911” system like Saratoga County and several other local communities have. Different from the Nixle notifications, the reverse 911 would go to all city telephone land lines and people would not have to sign up like they do with Nixle.

City police department officials had their first meeting with county emergency management officials on Tuesday about the reverse 911 system, and will have to train people to use it before it can be implemented here.

“We need to choose how it’s going to be done; who’s going to have access to it,” Cole said.

Cole sees the department using the system sparingly.

“If you send too much information out, the next time the phone rings they’re not going to answer it.”

Neither service gives the police department access to users’ personal information, Cole said.

“You hear, ‘Big Brother’s watching.’ It’s not a case of that,” he said.

On Nixle, the police department can’t see e-mail addresses, cellphone numbers, names or addresses.

Cole can’t even tell how many people are getting his alerts. All that information is held in Nixle’s database, and the service automatically contacts people in a certain geographical area that Cole selects.

“I don’t even know how many people are subscribed. I don’t even have a way of telling that,” he said.

The police department won’t have access to names or addresses in the automated reverse 911 system, either.

Since early December, the police department has maintained a page on the popular social networking site Facebook, another way it is reaching out to the community directly.

With more than 600 “fans,” the department posts press releases on the site and other items for positive publicity.

“That’s more of a public relations tool,” Cole said. “The public may not be fully aware of who we are and all we do.”

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