Killeen has a crime problem, and residents are rightfully concerned.
The city’s interim police chief, Margaret Young, acknowledged at Thursday’s police town hall meeting that violent crime had seen an uptick recently.
On the day after the city recorded its first homicide of the year, about 40 people made the trek to the city’s police headquarters, 7 miles south of downtown, to voice their concerns about the city’s crime rate and some of the problems they viewed as contributing factors.
One woman at the forum said she recently moved to Killeen from St. Louis and felt scared for her safety, adding that she never considered owning a gun before.
It was just one woman’s observation, but it reflected a general sense of uneasiness by many of the residents in attendance — and some of the more than 5,200 people who viewed the forum via the Herald’s live stream on Facebook during the two-hour event.
Issues at the town hall ranged from student fighting and vandalism to the number of police patrols in the city — and all were valid concerns.
One discussion topic was a proposal to outsource the city’s jail services. Residents voiced concerns that taking the time to transport arrested suspects to the county jail in Belton would take too many officers off the street, where they’re needed.
The police department doesn’t operate in a vacuum. When decisions are made to restructure the department, reduce police presence at the downtown North Precinct location and close the city jail, they affect more than budget numbers and manpower strategies. These choices directly impact residents.
Four Killeen City Council members and the mayor were in attendance at Thursday’s town hall, and their willingness to listen to residents’ concerns is a necessary component of any approach to devising solutions to the crime issue.
And residents offered some ideas worth considering.
One speaker asked if police could set up an alert system among the city’s convenience stores, so that if one is robbed, others could be notified immediately, so workers could take the appropriate precautions.
Another suggested more interaction between police and the city’s youth, saying that officers joining in a game of basketball can build trust and open the lines of communication.
Others suggested more recreational and entertainment opportunities for teenagers, in order to discourage potential criminal activity.
Bottom line, the city’s crime problem is something that must be attacked from all sides — through increased patrols, better investigative procedures and more citizen involvement.
The council and police department must deal with budget issues that serve as impediments to providing better police service and protection.
The police department must effectively address morale issues that are hurting the city’s ability to recruit and retain good officers.
The department must do a better job of reaching out to the public. Twice-yearly town hall events such as Thursday’s forum are a good start, but more must be done to encourage public input and engagement.
To be fair, police have achieved considerable success in attacking nonviolent crime. Young noted that the arrest rate has tripled in car-theft cases since the city’s Burglar Unit took over investigations.
But more must be done to improve public safety and improve the city’s image — both of which are imperative if Killeen is to attract both new businesses and new residents.
Ultimately, Killeen officials, police and residents must work together to curb crime in a city that has seen 33 homicides and more than 750 burglaries in the past two calendar years combined.
As one Facebook commenter observed during Thursday’s town hall: It’s about building relationships with everyone, from our families, neighbors, churches, schools and law enforcement.
Sound advice indeed.