Cops 'camp out' in response to crime incidents
WILLMAR -- In an attempt to establish a presence and ease residents' safety concerns, Willmar Police officers are "camping out'' on the southeast of town where a series of seven serious crimes occurred from Aug. 15 through Sept. 27, including a stabbing, a drive-by shooting and shots fired at an officer.
A camp-out means an officer parks and sits in the squad car for a certain period of time, then moves down the street or around the corner or to another street. The officer may work on reports while sitting in the car. The camp-out is continuing day and night.
'The whole point is it's a saturation of officers and officer time being spent in that area, establish a presence, make the citizens aware that the cops are there. They're in the neighborhood,'' said Police Chief Dave Wyffels. "It doesn't necessarily stop the crime but at least they know they're close by. That's the best we can ask for.''
Wyffels discussed with the City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee this week the steps his department has taken to address questions on the minds of the public. The discussion was referred to the committee by Mayor Les Heitke at last week's council meeting.
In an interview later, Wyffels said there's a problem right now on the southeast side and it's being addressed. In every case, he said, the police have investigated. In most cases, arrests have been made and the defendant is either in jail or sent to court.
"If I was a citizen on the southeast of town right now, I would be somewhat upset due to the amount of incidents that have been occurring over there and I would be concerned as a homeowner. If I was a renter, I'd be concerned because we all are concerned about our safety,'' said Wyffels.
"But I wouldn't be panicked. I certainly think that area is safe to walk through at night. I've got no fear of walking around the neighborhood. It isn't that. It's just been subjected to an inordinate amount of serious crime lately,'' he said.
Statistics indicate the victim and defendants in each case predominantly live in the southeast side of town and know each other, said Wyffels.
"Most of these people that we're dealing with are local citizens. I just wish I could attribute for lack of a better term how the wheels fell off the cart in such a short order.''
Wyffels said the reasons for the incidents are different. There's no pattern. The crimes are not the same, the victims aren't the same and the defendants aren't the same.
"It's just a magnitude of crime that seemed to have shot up recently,'' he said.
The chief said the southeast side has received an inordinate amount of attention and services lately. Wyffels said he doesn't have a problem with that because that's where the crime's happening and that's where the department will direct its attention.
"But that being said we're certainly aware of it. We're there, we're in the neighborhood. Our response time is good but we just cannot predict ahead of time who's going to commit the crime where.''
He said officers "have been doing a fantastic, bang-up job, working long hours, running from call to call, trying to put all the pieces together, staying on top of stuff,'' he said. "But at the same time, we feel ineffective just because of the volume.''