COLUMBIA, Mo. (KIMZ)
The Columbia Police Department and Columbia Neighborhood Watch its their annual meeting Monday night at City Hall.
CPD and the Neighborhood Watch have worked closely together over the years in an effort to keep Columbia safe. The meeting included a “State of the Watch” presentation from Columbia Neighborhood Watch President Herb Watchinski.
The Columbia Neighborhood Watch's Board saw significant turnover at the beginning of the year. President Herb Watchinski told ABC 17 News that a number of members on the Board were "joiners and not doers." However, he says the current board is now filled with members who are highly motivated and professional.
Despite the early adversity, the Neighborhood watch is touting success this year, saying burglaries are down once again in areas that have active groups.
Watchinski believes that short staffing at CPD is one of the biggest public safety issues. That is where the Neighborhood Watch wants to help.
“We are the eyes and ears,” Watchinski said. “They [CPD] cannot be everywhere all the time even if they were fully staffed.”
Interim Police Chief Matt Stephens also shared his thoughts on public safety, needs and concerns. He said a new police chief is expected to be hired by November.
According to Stephens, one things former Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones believed in was assigning officers to specific beats, so they could get familiar with a neighborhood. This made it easier for them to spot if something was wrong. However, CPD is currently unable to do that because they are spread so thin. Stephens believes the neighborhood watch is helping to fill the void.
“With staffing being low we don’t have the opportunities to put people where we want them always in the same potions. That's where it comes back to Neighborhood Watch and people taking care of each other,” Stephens said.
This is especially helpful in combating car break-ins. Something that both CPD and the Neighborhood Watch acknowledged as a growing issue.
In 2020, CPD recorded 503 vehicle break-ins. That number increased to 754 in 2021 and shot up to 916 in 2022. In the first six months of 2023, Columbia has already tallied 369 vehicle break-ins which is on pace to beat the 2022 total. This has led to further issues when weapons are left in these vehicles.
“One of the biggest things we have seen over the last couple of years that has presented itself as a problem is people leaving firearms in the cars and then those vehicles are unlocked,” Stephens said.
CPD has responded by increasing their patrols, but Stephens says the public can help by reporting any suspicious activity and looking after their neighbors even if they are not a part of the Neighborhood Watch.