Police to Restart Community Programs

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

July 15, 2021

The Morro Bay Police Department is bringing back the ‘National Night Out,’ event set for 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3 at Cloisters Park.
They’ll have several public safety agencies on hand to meet with residents and discuss their concerns and ideas. They’ll have
free hot dogs and snacks, like the dog this youngster was scarfing on at the 2017 event.

After what has to be the longest 18 months in U.S. history, owing to the coronavirus pandemic response and the upending of most aspects of normal life, the local police department is eager to put at least a few things back on a familiar path.

Morro Bay Police Cmdr. Amy Watkins said the department is eager to get back to it’s community engagement programs and a re-launch of sorts of the “Neighborhood Cop” program begun last November, where two officers are assigned to one of five “sectors” in town, and become the contact person for concerns, crime trends, and incidents that might occur in their particular areas.

The program had been going great, she said, and they’d held a few Zoom meetings with neighbors in the different sectors, but they were disappointed, as the online meetings were “lightly attended.”

“A lot of people want face-to-face meetings,” Cmdr. Watkins said. But the State is still under an “emergency declaration” issued by Gov. Newsom, so the department has to be careful on how it interacts with the public, especially with things like holding neighborhood meetings in people’s homes.

The first big event they are planning, Cmdr. Watkins said, is to celebrate “National Night Out,” a nationwide law enforcement event that is sort of an open house for public safety agencies.

Morro Bay’s National Night Out is set for 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3 at Cloisters Park in North Morro Bay.

“Twenty-nineteen was the last time we had it,” Cmdr. Watkins said. And while that is just 2-years ago, it seems like a lifetime given the way the nation has been locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic. “We would like to get as many as we can in the community out there and engage with each other.”

She cautioned that they will have to ask that those who are not vaccinated for COVID-19 (or don’t have natural immunity) to wear a mask, otherwise, all are welcome.

They’ll have barbecue hot dogs with chips and sodas for everyone, maybe even snow cones, and it’s free of charge. They are hoping to also have a dunk tank on hand, so the public can soak it to their favorite — or least favorite — officer. They’ll also take volunteers for a turn in the tank, if anyone’s willing to brave what promises to be mighty cold water.

She said in addition to the police department, the Morro Bay Fire Department, Harbor Patrol, Coast Guard and others will be on hand with informational booths. It should be another chance for the public to meet its new fire chief too, as newly-hired Fire Chief, Daniel McCrain, is to be sworn in at a ceremony July 30 and start work the following day.

She said they will hoist large, colorful banners around town announcing the event.

Among the organizations that will be at National Night Out, is the Morro Bay Neighborhood Watch, which is another program the police department wants to give a boost.

Calling the Neighborhood Watch group a “local partner,” Cmdr. Watkins said they can be invaluable to police, and give citizens a chance to become involved, especially in light of the past year and what seems to be a surge in property crimes — from car break-ins, to commercial burglaries and lots of catalytic converter thefts, which Cmdr. Watkins said has become a nationwide problem.

Indeed, on June 18, police arrested a teenager from Lake County, Calif., for a string of vehicle burglaries both in Morro By and Montaña de Oro State Park. That 14-year-old boy had cut off a probation ankle monitor and fled home, eventually landing with a relative in Morro Bay, where the crime spree took off.

They also want to step up efforts with their bike registration program, she said. That program would have bicycle owners fill out registration cards including serial numbers on bikes, so if yours gets stolen, they’ll have a record to consult and see if they can identify the rightful owners of the many abandoned bikes they recover all the time.

And the department is also looking at restarting its “Coffee with a Cop” program, wherein officers hold office hours at a local coffee shop and make themselves available to hear concerns, crime tips, or if they’d like some advise on home security, and more.

They are also working with local businesses to see if they can come up with variants on this theme, like “pizza with a cop” at a local pizza parlor, or “ice cream with a cop,” something along those lines.

“We look forward to expanding the event and reaching people at more convenient times,” she said. Coffees with a cop are naturally held in the mornings when many people have to work.

“We really want to get our community programs back out there,” Cmdr. Watkins said. “With the understanding of the requirements with COVID-19.” They will for now, focus on events that are outdoors, which could end up being the model for the Neighborhood Cops program as well.

Cmdr. Watkins said, “The old Neighborhood Watch days, they met in living rooms.” They hope scheduling meetings in public parks will ease people’s lingering fears about the virus and lead to greater participation.

They also want to get the Citizen’s Police Academy restarted, probably sometime next spring. “It’s a great way for people to see what we do and why we do it,” she said.

And while last year’s Downtown Halloween Trick-or-Treat, wherein the stationhouse gets turned into a haunted house open to public, one of the most popular aspects to the event, was canceled along with the trick-or-treating, they will probably opt for an open house in 2021.

This is because in 2019, the P.D.’s haunted house was a spoof on a haunted insane asylum, and someone took offense, writing letters that claimed it falsely stereotyped the mentally ill and was thus offensive.

And while they think that’s a false analogy, they decided not to do a hunted house at all this Halloween, even if the City brings back the Downtown event.

They are also going to use these occasions to promote their app which has loads of information including an interactive crime map, wherein people can pull it up and check on reported crimes anywhere in the city. The MBPD app is free and available at the Apple and Google app stores.

The department recently celebrated the hiring of Ofc. Kevin McCool, which filled their last remaining vacancy and brought them back up to their budgeted 18 sworn officers, they’ll soon lose another veteran cop to retirement.

Cmdr. Watkins said Sgt. Dale Cullum is slated to retire Aug. 2. Acting Sgt. Gene Stuart, who has been filling in for another sergeant who has been off a couple of months now, nursing a knee injury, will be promoted to fill Sgt. Cullum’s position full time.

So that means they’ll soon have another officer position to fill. “We will loose a lot of institutional knowledge, when Dale retires,” Cmdr. Watkins said, “We will miss him.”

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