Special Report: Using social media to protect yourself

Dr. Charles Gillespie developed a neighborhood watch system
Dr. Charles Gillespie developed a neighborhood watch system

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The internet… emails and social media are replacing the backyard fence as a meeting place for neighbors. More neighborhood groups are using websites to connect with each other in fighting crime, even finding lost pets. More than 300 families live in the established Doublegate subdivision. The homeowners watch out for each other and these days, they use the internet to do it.

Dr. Charles Gillespie developed a neighborhood watch system using two computers.

A website and email alerts keep neighbors up to date about suspicious activities or concerns within the neighborhood.

"We had a lost cat and a lost rabbit, and I sent out notices and said find a rabbit, and we found both of them yesterday," said Gillespie, a Neighborhood Watch Captain.

Spread sheets allow him to keep track of residents' contact information.

Families pay twenty dollars to join and the money is used to buy neighborhood watch signs or stamps for neighborhood mailers.

Gillespie says monthly operating costs are low because he does most the work himself.

"If I send out some letters, it's maybe ten dollars.  Yeah…I'm cheap,"  said Dr. Gillespie.

All information is kept confidential…unless a member requests to be identified.

Like one woman who frantically searched for her son before he was found dead out of state.

"The only time I've put a person on photo on the web and sent it out was at the block captain's, his mother's, request.  Because she was looking for him and hoped somebody would know something about him.  Unfortunately it didn't turn out very well, he was found in Louisiana."

But the alerts have helped neighbors in emergencies a little closer to home.

"One of the better examples of the neighbors helping neighbors is when the house on East Doublegate caught on fire.  And everybody was over there within five or ten minutes offering help to the lady that lived there."

The efficiency and speed of internet communication have made Gillespie and his neighbors feel safer.

Something he says couldn't have happened using phones instead of computers. "And to do a tree call back system was very time consuming.  Whereas, I'll show you in a minute on this other machine how I can send out 715 messages in about three seconds."

Whether searching for a lost rabbit or alerting neighbors of a nearby break-in…people in the Doublegate subdivision are putting social media to work for them and making sure their neighborhood is safe.

Many neighborhoods across the nation are beginning to use internet-based neighborhood watches, and Albany may just be coming around to the trend.

Gillespie is often asked to help other neighborhoods set up their own online neighborhood watches.

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