Online neighbourhood watch groups helpful, but must tread carefully: police
Published Friday, November 3, 2017 6:41PM CST
Last Updated Friday, November 3, 2017 6:53PM CST
In this social media age, your typical neighbourhood watch group may look very different from the traditional.
Online awareness has changed how many people keep an eye on their communities, prompting the creation of neighbourhood watch groups on social media.
Trevor Siwack is the cofounder of the North Kildonan Community Watch page.
Siwack started the group a few years ago in hopes of creating better relationships between neighbours, while promoting safety.
The group has grown to nearly 2500 members, and Siwack estimated he’s seeing up to 100 new members join every month.
And while Siwack welcomes the growth, he said there are checks and balances that he and other administrators have to uphold to ensure what’s being posted is appropriate.
Siwack told CTV most inappropriate content comes in the form of comments on posts; administrators are quick to take down anything that promotes racism.
There are also checks and balances when it comes to members posting photos of other people, accusing them of anything.
“If it starts mentioning names or they post pictures then our controls are a bit stricter in that respect,” said Siwack.
“For example with the photos, it would have to be of someone they claim they saw committing a crime.”
Members posting photos alleging crimes are also asked to confirm they’ve filed a police report.
“We’ve never had anyone who says they’ve been in one of the photos complaining to us,” said Siwack.
Any posts where members have named someone, accusing them of a crime, will be taken down.
Curtis Pankratz, assistant professor in the sociology department at the University of Winnipeg, stressed that a lot of positive community building comes from online neighbourhood watch groups, but said posting photos of people online accusing them of anything is a slippery slope.
“Now there’s a picture of them online that you don’t have copyright control to, and they don’t have copyright control to. It can be used anywhere for anything,” said Pankratz.
“And why? Because someone random made a judgment about them and their intentions.”
Const. Rob Carver, Winnipeg Police Service, said people posting photos online in that context could potentially lead to misinformation being spread.
“We’re very careful in terms of the suspect information we release and how we deal with that. The same requirement isn’t out there for just the average citizen,” said Carver.
Still Carver was quick to point out that neighbourhood watch groups have been a very positive thing for Winnipeg police.
“I can tell you from the neighbourhood groups we’ve been really impressed by the work they’ve done and we haven’t had to reign anyone in,” said Carver.
“I think the moderators do an excellent job of doing that kind of work within the group. I can’t remember a time where we’ve had to go out and change the way that they are disseminating information.”
That work as a moderator will continue for Siwack who said he plans to continue to grow the watch group, while ensuring area residents are well informed.
“If there’s a rash of crime of house thefts or vandalism, the block over would probably be interesting in know that,” said Siwack.
“So our group allows the broader community to know what’s going on.”
The North Kildonan Community Watch Group also does regular foot patrols, and plans to reach out to neighbourhood residents who might not have access to the internet or their Facebook page.