The number of neighborhood watch groups is growing in Jefferson City, and police are hopeful that will lead to a reduction in criminal activity throughout the city.
The Jefferson City Police Department reported there were 26 groups last year, and that has grown to 35 this year.
Members of the JCPD and several watch groups met Thursday evening, including the Historic Southside Neighborhood Watch which covers the Old Munichburg area. That area encompasses streets such as Broadway, West Atchison, Mulberry and Dunklin.
Speaking to about two dozens residents at the River Region Credit Union Community Center on Broadway, JCPD Capt. Eric Wilde said there has been an increase in criminal activity in the Old Munichburg area over the last several months. With that in mind, Chief Roger Schroeder has authorized two additional officers to be reassigned to the area.
"We've seen an increase in gunfire in town so we are making adjustments to staffing to address that," Wilde said.
Wilde said the police department divides the city into five zones with usually five to six officers patrolling those zones.
"As far as what is behind this increase, illegal drug activity is at the heart of the matter," he said. "The number one and number two case reports, actual investigations we do every year, is either narcotics possession or theft. The violence is just a bi-product of that. Fortunately this year, we haven't had a lot of people getting hurt by the gunfire, but if it continues to increase, then it's just a matter of time."
Wilde showed residents city-wide crime statistics for January through August, and the number one activity officers have been called out on was disturbances. With more 2,500, Wilde said that averaged to about 11 a day. Next on the list was traffic accidents — more than 1,500 reports that averaged to approximately seven per day.
"We've had nearly 400 thefts reported, and while most of those are shoplifting, 150 of those were thefts from motor vehicles — and many times the vehicles were left unlocked," Wilde said. "There were 40 guns taken from those vehicles, and some of those were later found to have been used in another crime."
There were 350 narcotics violations, 280 assaults and 150 property damage reports.
"As far as weapons offenses, we had 214 incidents reported which includes when someone saw a weapon displayed or heard or saw shots fired," Wilde said. "Out of those reports, we were able to develop 61 cases."
Wilde said officers made 41 traffic stops per day with 3,200 arrests, which averages 13 a day.
Second Ward Jefferson City Councilwoman Laura Ward has headed the Southside Neighborhood Watch for the past two years and said she wanted to move to the Old Munichburg area because of the revitalization efforts that have been going on.
"Even though it's a bigger area than you would normally see for a neighborhood watch, it's very close knit," Ward said. "We have some properties that are issues some years and then they're not. It just rotates. We urge everyone not to take matters into their own hands. The watch program is about calling police when they believe criminal activity is taking place."
Property owners at Thursday's meeting said they have been installing security cameras on their homes, and Wilde encouraged them to tell their neighbors to do the same as having video evidence, he said, is key to potentially helping police make an arrest.
Some property owners noted they've seen more drug deals taking place on streets near their homes and believed dealers had people serving as lookouts to make sure no one was watching while the deals took place.
"Reduction in crime is a team effort," Wilde said. "I can remember when I came to the police department over 20 years ago and the area of Ash Street was having an increase in criminal activity. Now, with business such as Prison Brews and others, that area has seen improvements. I think that's going to happen in Old Munichburg. They've got residents, property owners and businesses all wanting to make their neighborhood a safe place."
For more information about the watch program, call the police department at 634-6400.