When Emily Thomason sat in the pew Monday night at the Christian Reformed Church in Newton, she didn’t know she’d be telling a group of her neighbors that she has found syringes for drug use casually thrown in her yard.
But the Newton woman is glad she now has an outlet to share this message.
Thomason lives in what the Newton Police Department now considers Zone 5 of its Cops and Neighborhoods United Program, a new initiative by the NPD to increase communication between the public and police. For Thomason, Monday’s meeting was a good start to what she hopes is better visibility between police officers and the people.
“It was good to see other faces in the community (who were) interested in having that kind of connection with the police — I thought they were knowledgeable. I’d rather be part of the solution than part of the problem,” Thomason said.
Monday was the first of six zone meetings hosted by the NPD. The program takes the NPD’s current grid system used to track crime rates and traffic issues and breaks the city down into neighboring regions.
Monday night was Zone 5, which extends from First Avenue, south to Newton High School and west to Maytag Park. At least two officers will be assigned to each zone. More than 30 people attended Monday’s meeting at the Christian Reformed Church to meet their zone officers, Randy Oldfield and Brandon Blom.
“The Newton Police Department is dedicated to working with citizens to make their neighborhoods the safest places to live,” Oldfield said. “In order to accomplish this, we have developed the Cops and Neighborhoods United Program. This program works to develop relationships between our police officers and the citizens that we serve.”
The NPD plans to have a meeting like this in all six zones in the coming weeks.
During their presentation Monday, the zone officers, Sgt. Chris Wing and Lt. Wayne Winchell, explained how the Cops and Neighborhoods United Program works. When a citizen has a non-emergency, they will be able to contact the NPD to send their zone officers questions or information.
Each month, crime and traffic stats will be provided to the officers.
With these stats, the officers assigned to that zone will assess all issues — such as excessive car accidents, frequent nuisance complaints or a high number of burglaries — and begin a plan to address and correct the problems.
Winchell presented several resources to the residents Monday, including an online interface on the NPD’s webpage at newtongov.org, where a message can be sent straight to their respective zone officers. These are also checked, Winchell said, while the officers are off duty and or on vacation to ensure issues are addressed in a timely manner.
“Through these efforts, our officers are reaching out to neighborhoods within their zone to educate citizens as to what the police department does, what we can do, and have a conversation,” Oldfield said. “Officers are providing crime stats and answering questions.”
Newton’s CNU is modeled after a Des Moines Police Department program developed in the late 1990s called Neighborhood Based Service Delivery. According to Winchell, the DMPD’s model has become a training tool nationwide for police departments looking to develop community outreach initiatives.
During Monday and Tuesday meetings, officers gave overviews of a few of the NPD’s specialty programs, such as the motorcycle patrol and K-9 unit. In line with the zone program’s intent to share more crime data specific to the area, Winchell broke 2017 and 2018 incidents down into specific types of crimes committed.
For Zone 5, the NPD reported burglaries were down to 17 reported incidents in 2018, down from 25 the previous year. Criminal mischief charges saw an uptick in Zone 5 from 16 in 2017 to 30 in 2018, while arrests were also up from 48 in 2017 to 60 in 2018. All other areas including drug arrests, theft and theft from a vehicle remained relatively unchanged year to year.
Winchell also used the zone meeting as an opportunity to show the public the logistical information and challenges faced by the NPD. Since 1990, the number of officers on the streets in Newton has dropped from 27 to 23 in 2018. This is due to budgetary changes mandated by the city. In that same period, Winchell said, NPD’s calls for service have risen from 11,630 per year to 18,286 per year.
The NPD representatives also detailed nextdoor.com, where residents can track real-time case numbers for alleged crimes committed down to the 100 block in Newton, as well as online nuisance reporting and Jasper County’s WENS alert system through Jasper County Emergency Management.
Winchell said the zone meetings are a good opportunity for Newton residents to get a realistic picture of what’s happening in their neighborhood.
Winchell said the frequency of zone meetings like Monday and Tuesday is still in discussion, but the lieutenant hopes zone officers will hold public forums annually or bi-annually.
The third meeting in Zone 6 will take place at 6 p.m. Jan. 28 at The Way Church, 2306 S. Third Ave. E.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 email@example.com