Street crime unit to combat violent crime

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 | 10:26 p.m. CDT; updated 7:31 p.m. CST, Friday, February 19, 2010

The Columbia Police Department will create a four-officer Street Crimes Unit to combat violent crime, it announced Wednesday in a news release.

Although Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm told the City Council in early June that violent crime was down 28 percent this year, he said city violent crime has been on the rise locally over the past several years, and that violent crime is increasing nationwide.

“We’re constantly looking to improve our response to violent crime, and we think this is a great way of doing that,” Boehm said.

Capt. Brad Nelson said the key to the unit’s effectiveness would be that it doesn’t respond to calls. Instead, he said, the unit’s goal would be to “disrupt the lives of career criminals” by targeting them for traffic stops and building cases against them. “Career criminals” are a small number of offenders whose records reflect that they are responsible for a large percentage of crime, the news release said.

“The people we are targeting are career criminals,” Nelson said. “We are not targeting innocent citizens, and I can promise you that even though the officers are going to be both proactive and aggressive in their efforts to arrest career criminals, they are going to treat people professionally and with respect.”

The officers would work in areas where police already respond to a disproportionate amount of violent crime, Nelson said. He said the areas would be determined by violent crime trends and input from supervisors, but declined to name specific areas.

“Violent crime occurs throughout the city,” he said.

Boehm said the areas the unit focuses on could change on a daily basis. He said violent crime is often related to other criminal issues, particularly those related to narcotics. He said the street crimes unit would work closely with the narcotics unit, and it would report directly to a sergeant in the narcotics unit.

The unit should be operating by the end of July.

Boehm said the idea originated with the Investigations Division based on models used in other police agencies and national crime trend publications.

The unit will cost about $400,000 for its first year. Nelson said that figure includes salaries and benefits for the four officers in the unit, equipment for those officers and two fully-equipped police cars. He said those vehicles can cost $45,000 each.

In a news release, City Manager Bill Watkins said $125,000 is available now, and the remaining money would come from money saved in other areas of city government, including fuel conservation.

Boehm said the officers will be transferred from within the police department into the new unit, and that new officers would be hired to take their place. He said the unit would be a permanent fixture in the department.

Boehm said the department would have to address concerns about the perception that police single out certain areas unfairly.

“This unit will be tasked with being very assertive in their police work, so there will certainly be some in the community who will not approve of that kind of policing,” he said.

Last year, the department formed a Violent Crimes Task Force to address a spike in violent crime. The task force, made up of several area police agencies, targeted individuals police believed were responsible for violent crimes. It operated for about a month and made 42 arrests, most on felony charges, and made more than 107 traffic stops.

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