The Merrill Police Department is looking to get citizens involved in keeping the city safe.
At an initial town hall meeting in September, the police department introduced their Crime Prevention Initiative, reported on current drug trends in the city and offered tips on how to prevent becoming a crime victim.
The department also introduced Nextdoor.com, a private and secure social network intended to be a way for citizens to communicate with one another and with Merrill police and other city officials. About 200,000 neighborhoods in the country have Nextdoor pages. The Merrill page went live Sept. 2 and had reached 33 members by Sept. 16. As of last week, membership in the city’s Nextdoor page had topped 150.
On the Nextdoor page, residents can post events and share information. The police department uses the page to post information and answer questions.
“It is a crime prevention tool and a community tool,” said Police Chief Ken Neff.
Another way the police department is connecting with the community is by having officers get better acquainted with their own neighborhoods, Neff said.
“The purpose is to have those officers become familiar with people in their districts,” he said.
Also, communication between neighbors pays off in crime prevention.
“It’s about bringing back a sense of community,” Neff said. “If neighbors are aware of what’s going on in their neighborhood, they’re more likely to let us know when something’s not right. It’s all about trying to foster communication with us and with each other.”
The police department has also launched a Crime Prevention Initiative (CPI) hotline. Similar to Crime Stoppers, citizens can leave anonymous tips on the CPI line at 715-722-1122.
“The line is not for filing complaints,” Neff explained. “It’s more for information that police can use. We don’t want people to be afraid to call.”
Neff noted that a major drug bust in the city last year started with calls from neighbors who noticed suspicious activity.
Drug activity was a major topic of conversation at the town hall meeting, covering specific drugs and crime trends.
“We don’t have huge numbers,” Neff said. “Merrill is still a safe city, but we can learn from the crimes that do happen.”
Methamphetamine use in Lincoln County and Merrill remains a problem. Federal indictments in recent years have slowed the local production, but meth is still popular among a select group of people.
“Most of our major drug arrests involve meth,” Neff said. “Unfortunately, we see way too much of it yet.”
Merrill has also seen a few instances of cocaine, heroin and bath salts recently. Among teenagers, prescription drugs are the most common, along with marijuana.
“We want to communicate to people that we do have drugs in our city and we are working diligently to deal with problems related to drugs,” Neff said.
Merrill police also want residents to take precautions that will reduce their likelihood of becoming a crime victim.
“People should put themselves in a position not to be a victim,” Neff said. “Simple crime prevention includes being vigilant, communicating with your neighbors and reporting suspicious activity to police.”
Police Chief Ken Neff said the town hall meetings could become an annual event to keep the public informed. He expects the department’s crime prevention initiative to be a long-term project. The initiative started this year by contacting Merrill businesses with information on crime prevention, then expanding to involve service organization and citizens.
“I think this will be at least a five-year project,” Neff said. “It’s going to take a while to build up Nextdoor.com and building neighborhood relationships is going to take a few years.”