GOLD HILL — Residents of this cash-strapped town have looked to social media websites to fill the gaps left by limited police protection.
Nextdoor.com and a Facebook page dubbed "It's Just Us" are helping neighbors communicate about everything from fresh eggs for sale and town hall meetings to recent break-ins and houses with squatters and drug issues.
The city has been without a police department since 2007 because of budget constraints and liability issues from past efforts to offer law enforcement. But a community service officer from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department is working in Gold Hill almost full-time, said council member Doug Reischman.
The two websites offer an additional level of community awareness, Reischman said.
"No matter how small your town is, everyone is on social media," he said.
"We're hoping to get the word out and get more people on there, but it's going pretty good."
Nextdoor.com, an online Neighborhood Watch of sorts, boasts more than 26,000 sites nationwide. Reischman said he launched a Gold Hill-based page to encourage citizens to share important information about issues around town.
Neighbors have used the site to share information about suspicious vehicles, random break-ins and drug problems around town as well as offer free items and promote community events.
Reischman said citizens who would not otherwise take the time to report issues to police are more likely to share information via social media.
"People have a hard time calling the cops for different reasons, sometimes because they might not have enough information, but sometimes because they might not want to give their name," he said.
"This way, you can send a message to someone on your own or you can message your neighbors or just post something saying, 'Hey everyone, just a heads-up.' I think it's starting to pick up."
Ellen Smith, founder of "It's Just Us," said she started the effort after her neighborhood helped provide information that led to the arrest of two robbers earlier this year.
Smith said she mirrored her efforts after a similar Grants Pass community Facebook page called, "To Catch a Thief."
"It seemed like a good idea. It started a little over a month ago, and we've had quite a bit of information sharing," Smith said.
"We had a situation on Fourth Avenue where there was a prowler, and the woman who lived there posted it right away, and three or four neighbors answered right away and everyone was on alert. That's the kind of thing we hope the page will be used for."
Smith said any small-town-politics posts are quickly deleted.
On a positive note, the site has been used to report goings-on in city parks, trespassing incidents and concerns about blighted houses.
Smith said she tries to keep the site positive and keep a steady stream of posts popping up to encourage communication.
"I don't want to only send something out when it's bad news, so I'll try to post humorous cartoons and we have people post about meetings that are going on, too," Smith said.
"I have no aspirations to be anything in Gold Hill. I just want a safer community and I want to know who my neighbors are."
Resident Tom Dome applauded the efforts of the two Web pages and citizens willing to participate.
"I think it's just great. I think it's real handy, the sharing of information in such a diverse community like Gold Hill," Dome said.
"Maybe now, if people out there are screwing around and they know this is what's going on and that people are talking, maybe they'll decide they should go to another neighborhood when they want to raise hell. I think that's how you get things going and how you build a sense of community."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.