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Sheriff launches text alert system

Sterling left service, found Facebook better

MORRISON – The Whiteside County Sheriff’s Department says it wants to keep people in the loop.

Last week, the department launched the Community Notification Service, known as Nixle, to improve communication with residents. Other area agencies already have such alerts through Nixle.

The system, according to the department, provides an efficient and secure way to get neighborhood-level information to subscribers. Go to www.nixle.com to sign up.

The system enables the department to send text messages and email alerts to subscribers in a specific area, down to a quarter mile.

In a news release, the Sheriff’s Department described scenarios in which it may use the system: A young child walking away from home. A serious accident resulting in the closure of an intersection for several hours. Information about large-scale public works projects and community events.

Sterling Police Lt. Tim Morgan said his department used the Nixle service for a couple of years, when it was still free.

But after a year or two, Morgan said, Nixle started charging the department.

“We went away from it at that point,” he said. “We found we had better outreach using the Police Department’s Facebook page.”

Lee County has used the service for a few years. In a 2011 interview, Sheriff John Varga said his department didn’t use the alerts “as often as we should.”

“If you start giving too many alerts, people are going to hit ‘ignore’ or delete them without reading it,” Varga said. “We don’t want to overburden anybody with information that is not necessary.”

Departments say it’s a struggle to get people to sign up for the service. In 2011, the Sterling Police Department counted about 100 subscribers.

In its news release, the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Department urged people to spread the word by adding information about the service to their email signatures.

“Obviously, the system will be most effective when we have large numbers of subscribers,” the release said.

To sign up

Whiteside County has joined the Community Notification Service, known as Nixle. The system is available at no cost to residents. Go to www.nixle.com to sign up.

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