COLUMBIA, Mo. - The two dozen people that came to the Derby Ridge Elementary School on Thursday night made up one of the best attended meetings for Columbia police.
The department held its last "Building Stronger Beats" events for the season Thursday night for the north side of town. The meetings bring residents of certain areas together with the police officers that work there. Thursday's meeting covered beats 30 and 40, which cover the north and northeast side of town.
People there asked about the work of the Community Outreach Unit, the officers dedicated to patrolling the area on foot and making connections with residents in their areas. The two beats are served by three of the four units, and Lt. Geoff Jones said that face-to-face time between officers and people helps drive interest in their meetings.
"These relationships give us the opportunity to solve crimes that may go unsolved or take longer to solve," Jones told ABC 17 News. "They have a vested interest in helping the police because they realize that they're part of the community and that we're trying to solve these issues, not only as the police, but as residents and community members."
Jones said the meetings brought other issues to his attention he wasn't aware of before tonight. One person alerted them to a possible drug dealer in their neighborhood. Another brought up speeding concerns.
Other beat meetings held through the fall had far fewer attendees, some with less than 10 people. While only one other area has a Community Outreach Unit, Jones said neighborhoods can work on learning who their neighbors are to make their areas safer.
"That's what solves crime, that's what prevents crime, that's what prevents misunderstanding, builds trust," Jones said. "All those things that we hear sometimes as fluff come to life."