Following a series of town hall meetings in which First Ward residents have accused the Columbia Police Department of little community involvement, the department and the Columbia Neighborhood Watch are hosting a Neighborhood Watch Revitalization meeting for the central city today.
The gathering is at 7 p.m. at the Armory Center, 701 E. Ash St. and is specifically focused on police beats 50 and 55, which make up much of the First Ward.
Officers in the event will train area residents on personal and home safety. The gathering will also serve as a forum for residents to discuss crime in that area and meet some of the officers that patrol those beats.
Police Chief Randy Boehm said the event is not related to the recent meetings organized by First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton. He said the Neighborhood Watch is a cyclical program that is held every two months through the different city beats. The last time the central city had a Neighborhood Watch meeting was two years ago.
Boehm acknowledged the recent public complaints against his department have made the gathering’s timing crucial to keep good ties with the community.
Boehm said the program is a way to keep a good relationship with the community and to get the residents to work together with the police to combat crime.
However, at the April 26 town hall meeting organized by Crayton, droves of residents from the First Ward took center stage in a packed St. Luke Church to describe their sour encounters with the police and lack of interaction with officers. Those who complained were met with applause and cheers from the crowd.
Police data show that during 2003 more than 20 percent of the city’s service calls came from residents of those beats. So far this year there have been 4,255 calls coming from those beats.
Despite massive calls for service, the resident participation at past Neighborhood Watch gatherings has been poor.
Police Sgt. Danny Grant, supervisor of the Police Community Services, said the last gathering held for these beats two years ago only gathered about six people, compared to meetings for other beats that attract scores of participants.
Grant declined to give his opinion about why residents in the central city don’t attend these meetings.
Bill Thompson, vice president of the Douglass Area Coalition, said the program’s low outcome is caused by residents’ dissatisfaction with repeated traffic stops in the area and because of the department’s poor event advertising to community residents.
While Pat Kelley, a member of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, said her group knew about the event, both Ray Warren, president of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association, and John Clark, president of the Central North Neighborhood Association, said they were not informed of the meeting.