The good news is Centralia has a very low violent crime rate, Centralia Police Chief Carl Nielsen told about a dozen people who attended the department’s community public safety meeting Thursday evening at Fort Borst Park.
However, the bad news is the city has a high property crime rate, meaning thieves will target any property “not nailed down,” he said.
“Get to know your neighbors,” he said. “Make it as inconvenient as you can.”
The meeting, the first of four scheduled through April in Centralia, was designed to help police build relationships with community members.
Nielsen, Cmdr. Pat Fitzgerald, other police officers and Centralia city councilors spent more than an hour talking with members of the public about neighborhood issues such as theft, speeding cars and possible drug houses.
Several residents complained about neighborhood houses with heavy traffic at odd hours, loud gatherings and other issues.
“Having a guy like that in your neighborhood — I know how difficult that can be,” Fitzgerald said.
Some reported houses with large numbers of cars sitting, unused, in driveways. Police attempted to give some explanations for what residents are seeing.
“They use cars like collateral. It’s currency in the drug world,” Sgt. James Shannon said.
Officers also explained that stolen guns are often not used, but traded for drugs.
The community meetings are only part of the department’s new community engagement strategy, Fitzgerald said.
The department is also assigning a patrol sergeant to each of four quarters of the city to serve as a point of contact for residents.
For the area around Fort Borst Park, Sgt. Tracy Murphy will be the point of contact.
Murphy will keep track of crime in the area and work with residents on problems they see, Fitzgerald said.
The police department also took the opportunity to discuss its new Non Emergency Reporting System, which allows residents to report property crimes and other incidents through an online portal on the department’s website.
“Use the heck out of it,” Shannon said.
Officers cautioned members of the public to continue calling 911 for emergencies, and to only use the online reporting system crimes not-in-progress.
“If it’s something going on right now, use your phone,” Murphy said.
Centralia Mayor Bonnie Canaday, Mayor Pro-Tem Lee Coumbs and city councilor Peter Abbarno attended the meeting and participated in questions and discussions with community members.
Abbarno applauded the department’s efforts to be more visible in the community, both in their patrol efforts and through the public safety meetings.
“I think for a while citizens didn’t feel like they were being listened to,” he said.
Resident Judy Anderson said she’s seen a definite improvement in the department in recent years.
“I think we owe a lot to the new chief,” she said. “We owe you a lot for picking our area to come to.”
The youngest resident in attendance, sixth-grader Dante Higgins, asked Nielsen if officers could spend more time with students in schools.
Nielsen talked about how the department has positive relationships with area school and school district staff.
“We’ve got 12 different people from my staff out in the schools,” Nielsen said, speaking of reading and tutoring programs officers and support staff participate in.
“If you want, for your class in particular, someone to come in, let us know,” he said.