COLUMBIA - More than 4,000 Columbia residents are a part of a neighborhood watch program and the number increases every year.
Columbia Police Department Officer Melvin Buckner said the level of involvement from Columbia residents helps the department.
"We need the neighborhood to work with us and the neighborhood watch organization be our eyes and ears when we're not around," Buckner said.
Neighborhood Watch of Columbia Board President Greg Reed joined the program three years ago and said the program's intent is to create a stronger neighborhood and increase relations between the police department and the public.
"The thing that I've seen that's always fascinated me is how people get involved and grow in that involvement once they see what can be done by that involvement," Reed said.
According to U.S. Department of Justice research, the effectiveness of neighborhood watch programs is inconsistent. Some programs decrease crime while others increase crime. The department concluded that each program is individual and unique.
But Buckner said the effects of the neighborhood watch program can be seen in Columbia's crime rates.
According to Columbia Police data, burglary "hot spots" occur where neighborhood watch programs are absent.
"I think it helps deter crimes," Buckner said. "Definitely the larcenies, burglaries and auto thefts, more crimes of opportunity because you have people out there watching."
Captain Doug Shoemaker of the Jefferson City Police Department said the program creates a partnership between the public and the department. Shoemaker said the program allows the officers to go out into the neighborhoods and talk directly to the citizens.
"We talk about what things are going well in the neighborhood, maybe some problems that we're not aware of and then later on we provide feedback as to how we can help them address those problems," Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker said there are 40 neighborhood watch groups in Jefferson City and encourages citizens to create more. The Crime Prevention Office trains new groups on what to look for and what to report to the police.
"We firmly believe that that type of interaction really helps build the trust between us and the citizens," Shoemaker said.
Columbia Neighborhood Watch will have an information and training session on February 26th from 7-8 p.m. at First State Bank at Bethel and Nifong Boulevard.
To create a neighborhood watch program in your neighborhood, contact your local law enforcement office.