UCPD adopts Nixle for campuswide safety warnings

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Jennifer Tanji/Staff

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In light of an uptick in violent crime in the city, UCPD announced Wednesday the campus’s adoption of Nixle, a tool that alerts users about threats to safety in their area.

Nixle will provide real-time public safety information to students, according to a campuswide email from UCPD Chief Margo Bennett. After UCPD reviewed and tested the service for about six months, UC Berkeley students are now automatically signed up to receive free notifications.

Nixle updates will come in three forms: alerts for situations requiring immediate information, such as fires; advisories for information on matters such as criminal activity that affects traffic; and community messages about potentially disruptive events, such as demonstrations, taking place in an area.

“Nixle will ensure that more of our campus community is receiving the crime alerts we’re sending out so they can take precautions for their safety,” said UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich.

According to the annual city crime report presented Tuesday by Berkeley Police Department Chief Michael Meehan violent crimes increased by 19.5 percent from 2014-15, primarily due to an increase in robberies. There have also been 17 reported sexual assaults in Berkeley since the start of the year, according to BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats.

Reich said that she was unaware of a particular impetus for adopting Nixle at this time, but that UCPD selected the service because it can help reach a large number of people, as it can automatically register everyone with a berkeley.edu email address.

Nixle, founded in 2007, has expanded to more than 2 million users as of 2014, including the University of Maryland Police Department, the Oakland Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department, among others.

According to Bennett’s email, Nixle will not replace the campus’s existing UC WarnMe system, which will continue to provide students with information about major emergencies and life-threatening situations via email and text message.

Some students expressed skepticism about Nixle’s overall benefits and instead pointed to alternative sources of safety information on campus, such as the Wildfire app developed by UC Berkeley students.

According to Wildfire CEO Hriday Kemburu, a campus senior, Wildfire and Nixle operate differently. The three key differences between the two safety-notification platforms, he said, are that Wildfire uses multiple sources of information, including crowd-sourcing and news articles, provides two-way communication through which users can comment and ask questions and empowers users to post incidents that often go unreported to the police.

“Nixle, in theory, sounds really great, (but it) will take us some time to see whether it will serve the community well,” said Vinay Ramesh, a campus senior and Wildfire’s business lead.

According to Josh Weinstein, a campus senior and administrator of the Public Service Announcements group on Facebook, Nixle would not immediately replace social media PSAs, as only the police can moderate the information disseminated by Nixle.

He added that there is a high number of faculty and students, who might see something happen before police can address it and release a Nixle notification. Weinstein said, however, that in some situations Nixle might be more effective than PSAs.

“I think it’s good to have a space (such as Nixle) where people can know just about events that might affect their day-to-day lives that is not shared with advertising,” Weinstein said.

Contact Shradha Ganapathy at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sganapathy_dc.