The second of five scheduled listening sessions to hear what Jefferson City residents have to say about crime issues and relations with police was not heavily attended. However, organizers of the events said they are building a foundation for the future, and Jefferson City Police Department Capt. Eric Wilde talked about the planned addition of bicycle police to the department.
Wilde said Monday night that "we are bringing back a bicycle patrol unit" to provide more of a presence in the community and to get officers talking with the public more.
Wilde said 10 officers have been identified as candidates to go through bicycle police training, and the hope is to have them on the streets this summer.
He added that the bicycle police officers would not serve full-time in the specialty assignment, but as staffing levels allow.
Wilde attended the second of five community listening sessions organized by the Central Missouri Chapter of Empower Missouri. Monday night's session at the Capital Mall Community Room was for residents of Ward 3.
There were four people present besides Wilde, moderator the Rev. Charles Jackson and organizer Deirdre "DK" Hirner, who was at the sign-in table and had surveys to hand out.
Jackson is a former Missouri Department of Public Safety Director, and Hirner worked in the administrations of two former Missouri governors and ran for Cole County prosecutor last November.
"We want as many (people) as possible out here," Jackson said, though he also said of the listening session's turnout that "when things are going good, people tend not to show up."
Jackson said more listening sessions are planned for the fall, to see if any new issues arise over the summer.
"We're building," Hirner said, adding that "we're just seeing how it would go." She said she would personally be ecstatic if 10 people were at one of the scheduled listening sessions.
Darryl Engelhardt, who lives in Ward 3, said during the session that he was very pleased with the police response to issues his neighborhood had last year with gunshots, after the police were made aware of the concerns.
Wilde said the department would continue to focus on areas where complaints are received from, and one of the best ways for residents to get involved is through neighborhood watch programs.
He said neighborhood watch programs should not be thought of as spying on neighbors with binoculars, rather "so everybody on the block knows each other" and trusts one another, thereby making it more difficult for a criminal element to settle into the neighborhood.
When asked if gang activity is a growing challenge in Jefferson City, Wilde said the biggest change he's seen is "how transient we've become," not just in Jefferson City, but as a society.
He didn't think gang activity has changed all that much, but "it's hard to say anymore that Jeff City's got Jeff City problems" — that is, "It's not a local issue anymore. It's a regional issue," as people come and go from one community to another.
Wilde said a neighborhood watch doesn't need to be a huge commitment, but can have a family-atmosphere, and really just needs at least one person who can serve as a chair and be a point of contact and information outlet with police.
Wilde hoped the listening sessions would generate interest for JCPD's citizens police academy for residents to help be shown what goes on in the department.
The remaining sessions are scheduled as follows:
Ward 2 — 7 p.m. today (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., Saturday, March 30, Capital Mall Community Room, 3600 Country Club Drive.
The first session, for residents of Ward 5, was held last week at The Linc.
Hirner said the outcome of each meeting will be posted at empowermissouri.org, so information can be followed-up on and shared.