COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department proposed creating a permanent four-person Street Crimes Unit to combat the rise of violent crime in Columbia at Monday’s City Council meeting.
The Street Crimes Unit would focus on crime prevention through “incarcerating violent criminals,” according to a report presented by the Police Department.
The report presented to the council states that most violent crime is drug-related, a claim that Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said is supported by the city’s recent spike in violent crime.
“Many of the shootings that we have and many of the home invasions, robberies and those kinds of things are typically related to our narcotics issues,” he said. “That makes a good argument for why those units would have to work closely together.”
Boehm said the unit would include four officers, be housed under the Narcotics Unit supervisor and report to the sergeant in charge of the unit.
Forming the new unit would cost close to $350,000, with money allotted for two additional patrol vehicles and salary for four new officers who would be hired to replace the officers transferred to the Street Crimes Unit, Boehm said.
The Street Crimes Unit is considered a replacement for the recently disbanded Violent Crimes Task Force. Boehm said the two units have a similar purpose.
“The difference would be that this would be a full-time unit,” he said. “We’d be asking for positions to create something similar to what the Violent Crimes Task Force was but on a smaller scale.”
The Violent Crimes Task Force was created in December 2007 after a surge of violent crimes sparked concern about safety in Columbia. Four law enforcement agencies, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, MU Police, the FBI and the Columbia Police Department, devoted officers to that effort. Those agencies will not be part of the new unit.
The Task Force was disbanded, according to documentation from the Columbia Police Department, because the agencies did not have enough officers to replace those who devoted time to the task force.
Boehm said the department is releasing the report on the Street Crimes Unit now because Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser requested a report on the findings of the Violent Crimes Task Force.
“What we’re doing is proposing an alternative to that,” Boehm said. “It’s something we are anticipating asking for in our next budget, which would be Oct. 1 of this year.”
At Monday’s meeting, Nauser said she supports the creation of the Street Crimes Unit. She also suggested that gang enforcement be incorporated into the Unit’s duties.
“The reason I’d asked for (the report) was because we had this surge in violent crime, and we put together this collaborative task force with other agencies,” Nauser said. “I thought that if this has been successful, we shouldn’t just be doing this when we have a big surge. Why aren’t we doing this as a preventative measure?”
Nauser also said she would support increasing the number of Columbia police officers beyond the average number of an additional three officers each year. City Manager Bill Watkins said the department generally adds three officers each year to keep pace with population growth.
“These issues aren’t going to go away as we grow,” Nauser said. “They are only going to get bigger.”