COLUMBIA — For the last 20 years, Columbia’s Neighborhood Watch Program and the Columbia Police Department have been working together to write, print and mail Crime Watch newsletter to the Watch Program’s members.
Now the bi-monthly newsletter will no longer be printed. Instead, it will be available only online.
Connie Howe, president of the Neighborhood Watch Board, recently received his last copy in the mail, which announced that it would be the last printed issue.
Howe said the news was announced at the last board meeting about a month ago.
Columbia police Officer Mike Hayes said the decision to shut down the print edition was mutual between the Police Department and the Neighborhood Watch Board. It was discovered that some of the newsletters were being returned and both sides began to question whether or not it was being read, Hayes said.
The price to print and mail the newsletters was also hefty. It was decided that a way to reduce that cost would be to put it online, Hayes said.
“We had to debate whether or not we were being as effective and efficient as we could be,” Hayes said.
It was not Howe’s decision to stop printing the newsletter, and he believes it should still be in the mail, he said. He does, however, support putting the information online. Ideally, he would like to see the newsletter in print and on the Internet.
“I think it is always a good thing, making it available online,” Howe said. “But I don’t think we should leave out those who won’t be able to read it online.”
The newsletter has been available online since August. During its first month, the site was visited 74 times, said Sam Shelby, e-government coordinator for the city government. Since then, the trend seems to be growing, he said. The site saw a total of 326 visits during December.
At last count, the newsletter was being mailed to more than 2,500 residents. By placing the newsletter online, the idea is that more residents will have access, while also getting the message of Neighborhood Watch out to the public, Hayes said.
“I think it is too soon to draw a conclusion on the 2,500 households receiving a paper copy versus 326 viewing it online,” Shelby said. “I believe December was the last issue that will be distributed in paper format so many people that read the newsletter in its paper form may not have visited the Web site yet.
Shelby added; “After the next newsletter comes out, those that are interested will come to the Web site and the numbers may climb.”
Howe is worried, however, about people who don’t have Internet access.
“I cannot imagine that there will not be disappointment,” Howe said. “Not everyone is savvy when it comes to the Internet. We have some older people in our area and I can’t imagine some of them being on the Internet.”
Jeanette Symmonds, administrative support assistant at the Police Depatment, said police have already heard from about a dozen people without Internet access who left their addresses in hopes of receiving the newsletter in the mail again.
“The board is going to make a decision as to how they are going to get the newsletter to them,” Symmonds said. “They are probably going to do a special mailing to those people.”
Hayes confirmed that police are making arrangements for residents who wish to continue to receive the newsletter in the mail.
Howe said he wasn’t aware of such an arrangement but expects the issue to be discussed at the next board meeting in a few weeks.
“I think getting the word out is very important,” Howe said. “It would be a good idea to keep it going however we can finance it. We’re trying, but our budget is pretty low.”