Sykesville residents have a new tool to stay informed in the event of an emergency as police launched a text alert system last week to be able to quickly send out messages.
The Sykesville Police Department became the first municipal police force in the county using Nixle, a tool which works with more than 4,600 public safety agencies across the country to send users messages from all participating local agencies, according to a news release from the Sykesville government. The town police department is using a free version of Nixle's service.
Users can sign up by texting their ZIP codes to 888777 to receive text messages from all participating local agencies in the area, according to the release. Users can also create an account at nixle.com to select the type of alerts they wish to see and how to receive them.
Chief Michael Spaulding said he was familiar with Nixle from his time with the Maryland State Police, where he was a Southern Troop Commander. Law enforcement in Calvert and St. Mary's counties made use of the system, he said.
When he came to Sykesville in May, Spaulding said he learned there was no text alert system in place but department members had been considering starting to use one in recent years.
"It's not something I thought up on my own," he said.
The department first used the system Sept. 23 to announce an escapee from Springfield Hospital was back in custody.
Spaulding envisions using the system sparingly and only for major events, such as serious crashes involving road closures, severe weather or dangerous people on the loose.
"We're obviously not going to send messages out every time there's an accident," he said.
Spaulding said for now he is the only administrator for the system, but he hopes to get other members of the department trained so action can be taken without his participation being necessary.
Nixle also allows an agency to link with social media accounts and websites, Spaulding said, and he hopes to be able to use it to streamline the many notification methods the town currently uses.
"It's an effective way to get a message out to a lot of people very quickly," he said.
Spaulding said he hopes he doesn't have to make use of the system often, but it can save Sykesville residents the headache of a major traffic snarl or alert them to a dangerous person in the area.
Spaulding said he will discuss his department's use of Nixle at the next meeting of the county's police chiefs where they share information and discuss policies and trends.
The Hampstead Police Department does not have a text message alert system but does send information to interested parties through email, according to Chief Ken Meekins.
"When technology changes, we always look to use those changes to get our message out," Meekins said.
Due to the size of the Hampstead department, Meekins said it would be unlikely for the agency to make effective use of Nixle or a similar system because it doesn't have the staffing levels that would allow assigning someone to manage the system.
Hampstead residents can email Meekins at email@example.com and ask to be added to the email list, he said.
The Westminster Police Department also does not have a mobile alert system, but Capt. Pete D'Antuono said he will bring the issue up at the department's next staff meeting.
Taneytown Police Chief Bill Tyler did not return calls for comment as of 6 p.m. Monday and Manchester Police Chief John Hess was not available. A spokesman for the Manchester Police Department said he was not aware if the department had an alert system.
The Carroll County Sheriff's Office has a Nixle account, but it has been mostly inactive since the office announced its use of the MobilePatrol application in 2013, which allows residents to track active warrants, current inmates and new alerts, according to a news release shared through Nixle on May 24, 2013.
The application is available for both android and iOS devices, according to the release.
The Maryland State Police do not have an alert system in place for the public, according to Sgt. Marc Black, a spokesman for the agency.
Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Law Enforcement Alert Systems:
Sykesville Police Department
Text 21784 to 888777
Visit Nixle.com to set up an account
Carroll County Sheriff's Office
Download MobilePatrol Public Safety App free from iTunes or Google Play
Hampstead Police Department
Latest Carroll County News
Email email@example.com and ask to be added to the alert list