The Santa Barbara Police Department has implemented an emergency notification service that provides local residents with free, real-time updates about local news via email and text message.

The service began operating last week through the Community Information Service program Nixle, which is designed to efficiently circulate information to large audiences. Nixle publishes messages from four categories including emergency alerts, community information, traffic alerts and local advisories.

According to SBPD Sgt. Riley Harwood, the program can selectively deliver messages within a targeted geographical radius.

“The service gives us the ability to identify specific geographic areas where you want these messages to go,” Harwood said. “For example, in a case where we were looking for an elderly, at-risk walk-away and we knew that they were missing from a specific location, like in the vicinity of a convalescent home or something, through the service I could designate a certain radius or a certain distance from a block or two to, say, 10 miles.”

According to Nixle Vice President of Agency Relations Travis Scott, the service started in 2009 at the Chula Vista Police Department and is now serving over 4,600 law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Scott said subscribers are able to opt for email updates, SMS messages or both, with the updates also syncing to various social networking sites.

“That’s one of the beautiful things about Nixle: The agency [only has] to send the message one time and that message will be distributed by text message, email, online at, Twitter, Facebook and allow them to update their website,” Scott said. “When you think about it from an efficiency standpoint, they have the ability to get their information across six different communication avenues with only having to send that message one time.”

Harwood said the program has already helped the SBPD apprehend two burglary suspects just hours after the incident.

“I put out our first message with regard to two people we were looking for — people that were suspects in an auto burglary where a laptop was stolen — and the photos of them were taken through the solar computer’s tracking software,” Harwood said. “I attached the photos of the bad guys and within 90 minutes we had them identified and [people] were calling the police department, and that happened on Friday. So, it is pretty powerful. There’s no telling who is going to be subscribing.”

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