To improve communication between residents and the Jefferson City Police Department — that is the goal of community listening sessions organized by the Central Missouri Chapter of Empower Missouri.
On Tuesday, at the third of five planned sessions, community members as well as police and city leaders spoke openly about ways they can work to make their neighborhoods safer.
Residents from the Old Munichburg Neighborhood as well as people who live in senior apartments were among those in attendance at the Dorothy Pack Community Center on Edmonds Street.
Some of the residents talked about how neighbors had gotten into a habit of leaving cars and homes unlocked, leading to thefts of items such as guns that later were used to commit violent crimes. They noted, at times, people from larger communities come to their neighborhoods and find there is less security so they take items from businesses as well as homes. The residents fear that could lead to people taking the law into their own hands.
"It bothers us because we know what happens if those weapons are left unguarded," JCPD Capt. Eric Wilde said. "I have a military background, and I was always taught that if you have a weapon, treat it with respect and lock it up. We just have to keep on trying to educate residents and get that message out there."
Residents also talked with Wilde about drug activity and the violence they feel goes with it. Some property owners on Broadway Street noted shots are fired late at night and early in the morning, which sometimes is just to see how fast officers will respond.
"Different drugs cause different problems," Wilde said. "A few years ago, we saw heroin replace cocaine as the drug of choice, and people died from that. We do have people working behind scenes trying to deal with some of these problems."
The property owners also expressed some frustration, claiming when calling police to let them know what was going on, it didn't seem like the police were doing anything with the information.
"I understand you'd like to get call backs, and I apologize, but sometimes we get busy and if we don't have something to tell you from the information you left, we'll keep on going," Wilde said. "I would not say we're any worse off than other communities. I worked narcotics, and sometimes it takes years to make a case. We'd rather take down a drug ring than just one person. We want to make cases that will have an impact."
He encouraged the property owners and residents to continue to call the department or to leave information on the Jefferson City Area CrimeStoppers tip line, which is 659-TIPS (8477).
"We're not backing away, and we want to keep hearing from you," Wilde said. "Keep calling even though there may be no immediate solution."
Wilde also told the group he hopes these meetings will lead to residents taking advantage of programs the department already offers. This includes crime-free, multi-housing training for property owners.
"We help landlords understand what their rights are," he said. "Sometimes they get tenants who cause nothing but trouble and that costs money. We can show you how to prevent crime by doing background checks before renting."
Another program is the neighborhood watch, and Ward 2 Jefferson City Councilwoman Laura Ward told the group she is a watch captain in her neighborhood.
"I can pledge to you that we do have police going through our neighborhood to try and deal with criminal activity," Ward said. "I know we recently had two people picked up who had warrants. It's a great way to get to know your neighbors. We let each other know if we see something that doesn't look right."
Ward 2 Councilman Rick Mihalevich also told the group, along with working to deter crime, work is continuing to develop a plan to revitalize the Old Munichburg area — in particular, finding ways to get more home ownership in the area.
"One of the results of this work is an app you can download on your smartphone where you can report problems to our planning and protective services folks about code violations that can run down a neighborhood," Mihalevich said.
"We have had some reassignments and promotions that put new faces in different positions at the department, and if that has taken our eye off the ball, we'll fix it," Wilde said. "Our goal is still the same. We want to have that interaction with residents and get personal. If we communicate, then you understand what we have to deal with and we understand the needs you're facing."
There are still two listening sessions to take place:
Ward 1 — 6:30 p.m. tonight, Prison Brews Side Room, 305 Ash St.
Ward 4 — 1 p.m., Saturday, March 30, Capital Mall Community Room, 3600 Country Club Drive.
The outcome of each meeting will be posted at empowermissouri.org, so information can be followed-up on and shared. After this series of sessions, the organizers plan to have more in the future.