SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- More businesses and residents are calling the center-city ‘home’ these days but many folks say parts of downtown have a ways to go when it comes to cleaning up crime. That perception is one reason for a change in the Springfield Police Department.
Abby Poland, a manager at Staxx, a clothing boutique in downtown, believes safety has greatly improved over the years. However, she says, many residents can’t see beyond the stigma the area held in recent years.
“Probably one of the hardest things is to get people to feel safe downtown, to get them to come downtown,” said Poland.
“When we looked at where our crime has occurred over the last few years, it was readily apparent there was a center of the city mass that needed to be addressed,” said Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams.
Williams is beefing up the police presence in downtown by re-drawing the department's beat zone map.
“We are bounding it by Kansas, Grand, National, and Commercial Street,” said Williams.
Up until now, when it came to police beats, boundaries were based more on geography and major thoroughfares.
“Our beats weren't drawn up to match crime problems,” he said.
The pie is being re-cut to better match the need. Officers will be more concentrated in higher-crime areas, and more spread out in lower-crime areas.
“I think it'll definitely be great for downtown and the people know that they will feel safer to come down here,” said Poland.
In recent years, Springfield has been separated into two police zones: north and south. Beginning Jan. 30, the department will have a third ‘center city’ zone.
More officers will focus on downtown, but the increased presence won't come at the expense of other areas. Williams says 18 new police recruits will hit the streets in March, providing enough manpower to make up for the repositioning.
Under the plan, the number of officers in the new center-city zone will at least double.
“I think it’s really forward-thinking. It's taking care of everybody and focusing on our crime problems and trying to drive those down,” said Williams.
Williams says another improved public-safety measure includes reopening the Southside police station to the public. One of his goals for 2011 is to have the service lobby of the station on West Battlefield Road operating again. The reopening, he said, would depend on support-staff levels returning to normal.
The main station’s lobby hours were also pruned back last year, also because of a staffing shortage. Since the cutbacks, the service area hasn't been staffed during the overnight hours (though residents can still access an emergency phone in the waiting area). Williams said it’s unlikely the main lobby will ever return to 24-hour operation. At the time of the cuts, Springfield was one of the few major cities in the country still maintaining a 24-hour police service lobby.