The city of Independence is helping businesses along U.S. 40 with a social media program to more closely connect them and try to reduce crime.
“It’s kind of a neighborhood crime watch for business,” said Roger Hurst, who owns Hurst Imported Car Service.
The free program, using nextdoor.com , is called the iNforce Business Protection Network. Nextdoor is a three-year-old organization, based in San Francisco, with the stated aim of strengthening neighborhoods. Other parts of town, such as Englewood, also are making use of Nextdoor to foster communication.
An example of how it can work: Someone who tries and fails to pass a bad check at a business might try another nearby business, then another. That first business taps out a quick message that goes to other business owners’ mobile devices.
“They could work with each other on down the line,” said Independence Police Officer Billy Pope.
The hope is that shared information will head off problems.
“It still doesn’t bypass the normal route of calling 911,” said Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Economic Development Council, one of the groups behind iNforce.
“It primarily provides a tool to help the businesses communicate with each other,” Lesnak said.
The city is using U.S. 40 as a pilot program. There are 350 businesses on the road, and each would fall into one of three communities – Blue Ridge Cut-Off east to Interstate 70, I-70 to Noland Road, and Noland to Interstate 470.
Hurst has been at his spot, a few blocks west of Noland, for 18 years, and he says crime is getting worse.
“We are hit with something almost every week,” he said.
It’s a variety of property crimes: holes drilled in gas tanks, envelopes taken from the overnight key drop. The other day, someone dumped 28 used truck tires in Hurst’s back lot.
“It cost $84 to have them hauled off,” he said.
Sometimes the criminals are brazen. One day last fall, a customer had his Volvo in for an oil change. A technician turned his back for a minute, and a man and woman jumped in and sped off.
“I had the police on the phone when I was watching them go on down the driveway (and) down the road,” Hurst said.
Business owners do take precautions.
“We keep things locked up as best we can,” Hurst said.
Pope said there’s a particular problem of people cutting catalytic converters off vehicles. The devices are sold for their for their rhodium, platinum and paladium.
“The city is trying to take steps to stop these, especially the catalytic converter thefts,” Pope said.
The criminals really don’t get that much for the stolen devices, Pope said, but it’s a major hassle and expense for the vehicle owner.
“It costs you $1,000 to replace a $100 item,” Pope said.