COLUMBIA — Last November, Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm’s announcement that violent crime had increased 17 percent during the first 10 months of the year caused a strong reaction in the community. Public meetings were held, the City Council took up the issue and the police department formed the Violent Crime Task Force, which was disbanded after a month.
On Wednesday, the police department released the statistics it reports to the FBI, and the year’s final tally was even more grim: violent crime increased even more in the final two months of the year and violent crime increased overall by 34 percent from 2006 to 2007.
According to the 2007 Uniform Crime Report, there were 617 violent crimes in 2007, compared to 459 in 2006 and 478 in 2005. Violent crimes, as defined by the FBI, include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults. Law enforcement agencies nationwide release information about violent crimes to the FBI for its yearly Uniform Crime Report.
Police attributed much of the increase to a rise in aggravated assault, which went up 38 percent. “That represents 77 percent of that 34 percent increase that can be attributed directly to the increase in aggravated assaults,” said Columbia police Capt. Brad Nelson, the department’s investigative commander.
“We’re disappointed,” Nelson said. But he went on to say that there are “many causal factors for this ... I can’t give you one magic answer” to the question of why assaults increased so dramatically.
Other violent crimes increased as well. Rape increased 30 percent, and robbery increased 25 percent. Other increases included a 9 percent increase in burglary, and a 7 percent increase in larceny.
Boehm’s announcement about the crime rate last November followed the slaying of 55-year-old hotel manager Cynthia L. White at a Comfort Inn on Clark Lane.
Nelson pointed out that the number of homicides has decreased from eight in 2005, to two in 2006, and three in 2007.
“We did have a significant increase in (violent crimes in) November and December, and we didn’t have complete numbers in the assault area (of the report) at that time,” Boehm said.
The increase in violent crime could be proactively combatted with another task force, Nelson said.
But, Boehm said, “We aren’t short handed in the sense that we’re unable to respond to the calls we have now. We don’t have the staff available to create a violent crimes task force, with the staff we have now.”
The department’s clearance rate also went down for some crimes last year.