City hopes to revitalize Neighborhood Watch

Meetings will be aimed at educating residents to improve programs.
Sunday, September 14, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:20 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

Although there are 472 Neighborhood Watch groups in Columbia, it’s hard to tell which ones are active anymore. The constant movement of people in and out of residential areas complicates the alliance between police and residents that forms the backbone of the crime-prevention effort.

That’s why Neighborhood Watch board president Richard Poelling wants to begin a second revitalization campaign this fall, with a series of eight meetings beginning Nov. 13 and ending in May 2005.

The goal of the campaign, as with the last one, is to re-establish principles and training for current Neighborhood Watch members and to educate people who might join. Using a town hall meeting format, Poelling said, will allow people to interact with other groups and police officers involved with the program.

“This is a second chance to get groups and communities up to speed,” Poelling said at the annual Neighborhood Watch meeting Monday.

Columbia police officer Sgt. Danny Grant, supervisor of the Crime Prevention Unit, said the revitalization effort will also help identify Neighborhood Watch groups that aren’t operating at the required 51 percent participation rate.

“Is it fair to leave Neighborhood Watch signs up if there are no trained members in the area?” Grant said.

Neighborhood Watch groups can be formed by entire neighborhoods or by a small group of residents who live along an individual street. Poelling said 10 percent of watch groups in Columbia no longer have members, while only 13 percent have more than 11.

Poelling hopes the new campaign will increase the number of Neighborhood Watch groups by 10 percent, boost the number of active groups with captains from 59 percent to 70 percent, and retrain 10 percent of current members.

The last revitalization campaign, which lasted from January to May 2001, involved 429 households; 45 percent of those were established members and 55 percent were new. That campaign produced a 6.3 percent increase in group membership and retrained 4.9 percent of active members.

“Our primary purpose is to rejuvenate, both in terms of gaining new members and retraining current ones,” Poelling said.

Each Neighborhood Watch group requires initial training from a member of the Crime Prevention Unit. Those officers provide suggestions on home security, tell how to report crimes and suspicious activity and discuss crime rates.

Since Neighborhood Watch began in Columbia in 1975, the city has seen a consistent decline in burglaries. Since a 1979 peak of 1,500, the rate of burglaries has dropped 66 percent. In the past four years, Poelling said, the number of burglaries dropped from 594 to 432, and the number of larcenies from 2,923 to 2,798.

Bill Pfeiffer, a resident of the Bluff Creek subdivision for more than a year, attended his first annual Neighborhood Watch meeting Monday. He sees promise in the revitalization and has high praise for Neighborhood Watch.

“Columbia is a much more stable community because of Neighborhood Watch,” Pfeiffer said.

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