Killeen residents have good reason to be concerned.
With eight gunfire attacks in the space of six days — including five in one night last week — it seems as if some areas of the city have become a war zone.
Thankfully, none of the shooting incidents resulted in a fatality, but two people were wounded, including a woman who was shot in the face.
In response to questions from the Herald regarding the spate of shootings, Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin said Thursday the incidents appear to be gang- and drug-related, noting that the general population is not normally the target of this type of activity.
That’s small consolation to those who live in the affected neighborhoods. And it’s worth noting the shootings weren’t confined to one area of town, but took place in several geographic locations.
Baldwin also noted in his comments Thursday that the problem goes beyond the local area. He said the KPD is working with area law enforcement agencies, the Department of Public Safety and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
While that information is somewhat reassuring, it comes a little late in the game.
In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday night’s shooting incidents, the police department declined to answer questions from the Herald or even confirm the attacks had taken place. It wasn’t until nearly 12 hours after the last reported shooting that KPD issued a news release detailing the five incidents.
Granted, investigators needed time to piece together the facts surrounding the attacks, but the public deserved to know something early in the day — even if all the details were still unclear.
By delaying the release of information, police only heightened anxiety and speculation among an understandably concerned populace.
In the wake of such widespread gunplay, the priority should be to inform and reassure the public — and that priority was not in evidence here.
Add to this the fact that the city has seen five homicides so far this year — with no charges filed in any of the cases — and it’s apparent that the police department has a potential trust problem.
Newly elected City Councilman Gregory Johnson is asking for some answers.
Citing numerous calls and emails from concerned residents, Johnson requested that the issue of crime in the city be placed on the council workshop agenda for July 5 or July 19.
Johnson is asking for a detailed presentation by the police department on what KPD is doing to reduce crime, as well as a discussion of the department’s current programs such as Neighborhood Watch and Citizens on Patrol.
Johnson is making his appeal not only as an office holder, but also as a crime victim. He noted his downtown-area home has been burglarized twice in recent months.
In his letter to the mayor and council, Johnson said he believes the city must take a proactive approach and get the public involved in crime prevention.
Johnson’s argument is a strong one. With about 265 police officers serving the city’s 140,000 residents — 16 fewer than the number of officer slots allotted — it stands to reason that police can’t be everywhere at all times.
Baldwin acknowledged Thursday that KPD has increased patrols. Yet, police should have sent that message immediately after Tuesday’s gunfire attacks, not wait for questions from the media.
The same holds true for a Friday morning incident, which KPD did not report.
Baldwin said the police department will host a community forum in the near future. That’s a positive step, but many previous KPD forums have been poorly attended. Such events should be held at city venues other than police headquarters, and they should be widely publicized.
In the meantime, residents need some assurances — and they need timely communication.
Citizen involvement is necessary if Killeen is going to get a better handle on crime, but residents will be of little help if they are frequently kept in the dark.