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San Diego County Sheriff Nixes Using Nextdoor.com To Share Information

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department told KPBS in August that it would work on posting more public information online, including possibly using the social media site Nextdoor.com, but some residents say that hasn't happened.

San Marcos resident Kevin Mecum said the department broadcasts public safety information from its helicopter, but the announcements are often garbled and hard to understand.

"Does the Sheriff's Department expect us to all call whenever we hear a helicopter?" Mecum said. "Or are they going to provide us proactively with what is the helicopter saying? Why is it flying right above my house with the PA? How do I find out what's going on? Am I in danger? What do I do?"

A recent post on the San Elijo Hills Facebook page demonstrates the problem. As a helicopter made announcements, one resident wrote, "I made out that it said 14 pound man and 300 year old girl."

Mecum wants the Sheriff's Department to post information online about breaking news and other alerts. He and his neighbors distribute information using Nextdoor.com, which allows people to find and talk to their real-life neighbors online. Mecum said he doesn't care what site the department uses as long as information is distributed.

After a KPBS inquiry this past summer, San Marcos sheriff's Capt. Scott Ybarrondo said he would connect Mecum with someone from the Sheriff's Department who would give Mecum information to post on Nextdoor.com.

"So that when there was an incident in the community, I could be alerted, and then I could alert people through Nextdoor," Mecum said.

But four months later, he's gotten nowhere, he said.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell wrote in an email this month to KPBS that "we will not participate, nor will we administer a NextDoor.com site at this time."

The Sheriff's Department also deleted its Facebook page in November after an Oceanside gun parts dealer sued the agency when two of his comments were removed and then he was banned from commenting on the page.

During the summer, Ybarrondo said the department was looking into getting a louder public address system for its helicopter. But Caldwell now says the agency's PA system was upgraded two years ago and would not be upgraded again.

"Wind or other meteorological conditions can affect the quality of the system," she wrote. When that happens, the helicopter will fly lower to the ground, she said.

The Sheriff's Department also says it uses another website called Nixle.com to send out alerts. But those alerts don't happen very often. The most recent one, sent more than a week ago, says deputies in Julian were being recognized for solving a string of thefts.

"I've never seen it used in my own neighborhood, and I've witnessed other helicopter experiences throughout San Marcos where everyone's just confused about what's going on," Mecum said.

He said sheriff's deputies do a great job of solving problems and keeping his neighborhood safe. He only wishes he and his neighbors could get clearer information on breaking crime events.

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