Belton residents aiming to engage community, improve safety after recent shootings

BELTON, Mo. -- Three shootings within a matter of days this month are now spurring residents of Belton to take action. A grassroots effort is looking at all kinds of ways to improve safety.

A bullet hole in the side of a house and broken window can be seen at one of the three spots in Belton recently hit by gunfire. And those incidents are part of what have many residents taking aim at improving the safety of the community.

“So I realized we had a problem brewing that wasn’t being addressed by the city aggressively enough,” Jason McDaniel said.

First, came a community Facebook page called "Belton Ray/Pec Crime Watch," which eventually led to a series of community meetings. Although each resident has their own ideas for preventing crime, they agree on a couple key points.

First, they're looking to create organized neighborhood watch groups.

“We’re not trying to be vigilantes. We’re merely trying to be an extra set of eyes for an under-funded, over-taxed police force,” McDaniel said.

They're also hoping the city will consider a rental inspection program to tidy up problem properties.

Belton's police chief knows it's an issue, which has also been driving an uptick in crimes like trespassing and assaults. The city's already improving relationships with landlords and cracking down on code violations to help.

“We recognize those specific concerns our citizenry has, and we want to partner with them in order to address those issues, those crimes that come up,” Belton Police Chief James Person said.

But as Belton has grown, the police department is doing more with less. The city's portion of sales tax hasn't changed since 1979. Tight budgets have now led to a hiring freeze, and soon they'll be down six officers.

“That causes an increased response time. It causes some black-out times. It means there are fewer people available to handle those calls for service and be proactive,” Person said.

In November, voters will be asked to approve a half-cent sales tax that would generate $1.6 million to help bolster police and fire budgets.

In the meantime, police and residents are hoping more people who call Belton home will take a stake in the community's safety.

“We cannot be everywhere all the time and need the extra eyes and ears that are available in the community,” Person said.

“Everybody’s busy. Everyone wants to put their head down and plod along, but that’s how we got here. We’ve got to do something different,” McDaniel said.

The group has created an online petition with some of the goals they're hoping to achieve.

The Belton Ray/Pec Crime Watch group is hosting a community meeting Saturday night at 5 p.m. at Memorial Park.  They're also encouraging everyone to attend the next city council meeting on Aug. 28.