The first of five listening sessions to hear what Jefferson City residents have to say about crime issues took place Wednesday night.
The Central Missouri Chapter of Empower Missouri hosted the forum at The Linc to talk with residents in Ward 5.
Patsy Johnson serves on the Jefferson City Human Relations Commission and was among those organizing the event.
"We have gatherings where people come and talk about their problems or issues with crime and the police and then the groups never do anything after that," Johnson said. "We want to start the dialogue with the community and the police and have it continue because we all want to live in unity."
Former Missouri Department of Public Safety Director the Rev. Charles Jackson served as moderator and said when he served as Captain of Troop F of the Missouri Highway Patrol in Jefferson City, he had listening sessions such as these to encourage communication with residents.
"Sometimes, their expectations were more than what we could provide, but you have to get out there to find out what they are thinking," Johnson said.
Candidates for municipal offices as well as representatives from the police department were invited to attend.
Jefferson City Police Capt. Eric Wilde said he welcomed the opportunity to listen to what people at these sessions will have to say.
"I think we do have a good relationship with the community, but we can always do better, and if there is a blind spot, we need to know about it," Wilde said. "We are hoping to host a citizens police academy later this year that will help show residents what goes on in the department, and we'll work among our staff to see what can be done to address issues brought up at these meetings."
Jefferson City mayoral candidate Tiwan Lewis asked that the police work to do more community policing.
"I've got a 6-year-old son who wants to grow up and become a police officer, but you ask a 20-year-old and they want no part of it," Lewis said. "I think we need to have more involvement between youth and the police in a positive manner."
One of the residents who came to the meeting told of a time where they were pulled over on Monroe Street by an officer and given citations without much of an explanation.
"That was one of the most common issues brought up in our sessions with the highway patrol," Jackson said. "I told troopers they needed to spend the time to make sure the person they gave a ticket to understood why they were getting it."
Cheryl Hibbett has lived in Ward 5 for many years and told the group she believes part of the discussion in the sessions should focus on racism.
"I can remember people coming to visit my home and being told that they shouldn't stay out late if they came over because of what could happen in this neighborhood," Hibbett said. "We have an issue with race in this community, and until that's addressed, it will be hard to make any changes."
Listening sessions are being held in all the city's wards. The remaining schedule is:
Ward 3 — 7 p.m. Monday, Capital Mall Community Room, 3600 Country Club Drive.
Ward 2 — 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dorothy Pack Community Center, 1306 Edmonds St.
Ward 1 — 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Prison Brews Side Room, 305 Ash St.
Ward 4 — 1 p.m. March 30, Capital Mall Community Room, 3600 Country Club Drive.
The outcome of each meeting will be posted on the Empower Missouri website, empowermissouri.org, so the group can report back to attendees what was learned.