Columbia police aim to build stronger communities

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department will hold a series of community meetings starting Thursday to build stronger police beats.

The meetings will create an open discussion between citizens and their corresponding beat commanders, focusing on ways officers can better serve their community.

"We want to reach out to the people who live in our areas of town, basically touch base and let them know what we're doing, give them an opportunity to ask us questions, give us an opportunity to ask them questions," said police Lt. Geoff Jones.

A police beat is divided into geographic areas to facilitate policing and encourage community building.

Jones' beats, 30 and 40, are north of I-70, and will be holding their beat meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Derby Ridge Elementary. Jones said most of the things he hears from his community are quality of life concerns.

"We hear complaints of speeding, we hear complaints of violence... burglaries have been an issue in the past... the loud neighbor, or fireworks around this time of year," Jones said.

Monthly, the police department produces crime statistics to see "where we're at," Jones said. The beat meetings will spend time reviewing these statistics to keep people informed on how their community is fairing.

"If they hear something that's inaccurate, we can correct it there," Jones said. "When things happen in a neighborhood and it goes through the grapevine, the information is very seldom accurate."

Jones said building a strong police beat is more than just holding meetings; it's about creating relationships.

"I try to empower the officers that work for me to go out to their part of town and talk to the people who live there," Jones said. "We don't just want to respond to calls, we want to make sure we have relationships with the people who live in the areas we work."

The Columbia Police Department has already started several initiatives to build stronger beats, such as bringing in medical care, counseling, food and transportation to its beats, resources that aren't normally expected of police officers.

"When our officers show up and there's a family of four and they're hungry or they're not getting enough food or someone has lost a job... we can take food from our supply given to us by the food bank and provide it to that family directly," Jones said.

Jones himself has tried to embody his beats mission by serving his community beyond just responding to calls. In April of 2016, Jones went viral after driving a woman to work and her children to daycare after her car had broken down on the side of the road. 

The full list of beat meeting places and times include:

  • Beats 30 and 40, April 27 at Derby Ridge Elementary, 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Beats 10 and 20, April 27 at West Junior High School, 7 to 9 p.m.
  • Beats 50 and 60, May 2 at Gentry Middle School, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
  • Beats 70 and 80, May 16 at Shepard Boulevard Elementary, 7:15-9:15 p.m.