When Sandra Havlik first described receiving her award, she used the word “we.”
“It was a couple weeks ago, we got an email and it let us know we were one of the 35 chosen,” Havlik, the Renton Police Department community programs coordinator, said.
Havlik was individually named one of the 35 most appreciated and engaging law enforcement officials on the social media platform, Nextdoor. But something about her collaboration with other Renton Police Department officials, community programs and social media engagement compels her to describe it as a collective recognition.
“We’ve been working really hard the last couple years to put ourselves out there and really engage with the community. It’s not just me by myself, there’s definitely a few of us trying to be available and reach out,” Havlik said.
Havlik joined the community programs team at the Renton Police Department in 2016, after working the front counter for about five years. Around that same time, Police Sgt. Christy Mathews came in and evaluated the department’s social media accounts. The team then developed a social media strategy, wanting to not only build an image, but maintain two-way conversations with community members.
Havlik describes it as not wanting to just be a blowhorn offering information. They knew residents weren’t waiting for their 11 o’clock news anymore. They want to hear from police and know what they’re doing. Havlik said they hoped to give the community facts and be the ones they trust for accurate, up-to-date information.
Nextdoor was specifically created for neighborhoods and community engagement, said Jen Burke, director of local media relations for Nextdoor. Agency partnerships have been an important factor for engagement on the site.
In fact, whenever a local agency joins, membership skyrockets in that area. There are currently about 3,000 public agencies that use Nextdoor to talk to community members. And 80 of those agencies are in the greater Seattle area.
“It’s been very beneficial for us to have these agencies on board, and in turn, they get to use Nextdoor. It’s free for them to use, and they can actually target down to the neighborhood level,” Burke said.
Burke said adoption of Nextdoor in the Pacific Northwest is extremely strong, and she said Havlik’s recognition is a testament to that.
There have been more than 3,700 neighborhoods created on Nextdoor, but Burke said they don’t release information on how many members they have.
Renton has 121 neighborhoods on Nextdoor, all utilized by Havlik and the rest of Renton Police Department. The neighborhoods can be posted to individually too, which Havlik said makes Nextdoor unique.
Havlik said they encourage all Renton officers to utilize their social media platforms, training new hire on their social media strategy. With Nextdoor, officers can post in a specific neighborhood they’re patrolling to ask residents to inform officers if they see something suspicious or need help identifying someone, without it flooding all of Renton’s feed.
Another thing Havlik has noticed is that people will often send her messages regarding concerns when they are hesitant to call 911. Havlik said this gives her and other members of Renton Police Department the chance to tell residents they encourage them to call 911 or their non-emergency number, 425-235-2121, and that officers will then determine the priority of the call. And letting that resident know they can and should call can bring that resident relief, Havlik said.
Havlik said social media is also a great tool for community policing, an idea that agencies are trying to wrap their arms around right now.
“We’re always doing good things, but it’s about putting that information out to people,” Havlik said. “So I think that’s why we’re so big on community policing because we get to see it, feel it and touch it every day with social media so it’s great.”
Havlik encourages even non-Renton residents to sign up for Nextdoor to at least get to know their community.
“It’s important for you to look out for your neighborhoods,” She said.
Havlik and Burke both said the award wasn’t just for Renton Police Department, but for the Renton community who engages with them. Nextdoor is just the facilitator, and it’s a facilitator Havlik loves to utilize to keep the community conversation going.