Five Ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week

Friday, June 27, 2008 | 3:07 p.m. CDT; updated 12:45 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No green light on red-light cameras

Think of it as a long yellow caution light. Despite enthusiasm for installing cameras at several Columbia intersections to catch drivers who run red lights, after several months, city officials continue to fine-tune their approach.

One reason for the delay is that the city ordinance conflicts with provisions of several bills filed by Missouri legislators. Although none of those bills passed, it’s clear lawmakers were pressing for statutes that would regulate cities’ use of red light cameras. One proposal calls for issuing fines only to red light violators captured on camera without reporting infractions to the Missouri Department of Revenue. The city ordinance, however, calls for violators to be reported to the state and points to be assessed against their driver’s licenses.

Another legislative proposal would have restricted cameras to taking photos only of license plates. The city, however, wants to photograph both plates and the vehicles’ drivers to strengthen the case that the person ticketed was driving the car and to guard against a potentially unconstitutional scenario in which the owner of a vehicle might have to prove his innocence.

Which red-light camera scenario do you think is the best deterrent against running red lights?

Crosscreek communication

The Shepard Boulevard and Timberhill Road neighborhood associations last week announced the end of mediated talks with Stadium 63 Properties, the entity trying to develop the Crosscreek Center. The groups held confidential discussions for weeks in an attempt to reach agreement on details of Crosscreek. Thus far, Timberhill residents have signed off; Shepard Boulevard has yet to vote.

Crosscreek dates back to 2004, when Stadium 63 submitted a site plan for the 74-acre tract along U.S. 63 at Stadium Boulevard. Opposition became apparent at the first public hearing in December of last year, and in March the City Council rejected the proposal after hours of public comment. The main bone of contention was a proposed Toyota dealership. The council directed the developer to work more closely with neighbors. Mediation ensued.

Although Stadium 63 began submitting site proposals piecemeal, beginning with a Break Time and a Taco Bell, both plans were tabled at the latest Planning and Zoning Commission meeting — the same day the end of the formal talks was announced — and will come back to the commission with proposals for the rest of the lots on July 10.

What are the pros and cons of neighborhood residents entering confidential, mediated talks with developers in an effort to have their concerns addressed?

Anti-crime crusade

“Career criminals” in Columbia are about to come under attack. The Columbia Police Department unveiled plans this week to create by the end of July a Street Crimes Unit dedicated to battling violent crime. Police Chief Randy Boehm said that despite a decrease in violent crimes thus far this year, rates have been increasing over the past several years both locally and nationally.

The four-officer Street Crimes Unit would target career criminals, defined as a small number of people whose records show they are responsible for a large percentage of local crimes. Rather than responding to calls, these officers would frequent high-crime areas — or hot spots — and build cases against career criminals by targeting them through traffic stops and other means. Hot spots might be specific neighborhoods, homes, night clubs or other locations.

Capt. Brad Nelson said the unit in the first year would cost about $400,000, including salaries and benefits, equipment and police cars. The officers would be transferred from within the department, and new officers would be hired to fill their jobs.

Mayor Darwin Hindman praised the idea. “Certainly, the criminals won’t be happy with this, but that’s what we want.”

What reservations, if any, might you have about police aggressively targeting those it identifies as “career criminals?”

Pronouncements from the bench

It was a week of landmark rulings from the state’s and nation’s highest courts.

On Wednesday, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the use of the death penalty as punishment for raping a child. This will overturn death penalty laws in six states, including Louisiana, where two men were sentenced to death for child rape.

Then on Thursday, also in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns. It was the court’s first-ever pronouncement that the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment indeed protects individual gun ownership rights.

Closer to home, the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday voted 5-2 to uphold a 2007 state law legalizing midwifery without the presence of a physician. That ruling followed more than 25 years of debate between midwifery advocates and medical groups, who argued that allowing unlicensed midwives to practice medicine could put physicians at risk of professional discipline. The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that the plaintiff parties, which included the Missouri State Medical Association, had no legal standing to sue.

How will these rulings affect your life?

Media matters

Recognizing the need to better understand what the public wants from its media, the Missourian, the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Columbia Human Rights Commission on Wednesday held the first of three “Watching the Watchdog” forums.

More than 30 people, ranging in age from 17 to 81 and from all six city wards, came to the Columbia Public Library to participate. Some were self-professed “news junkies,” while others confessed they joined the discussion primarily to get free tickets to the MU School of Journalism’s Centennial Celebration this fall.

Whatever their motives, participants engaged in conversations about talk radio, objectivity, cable news networks, foreign news media, crossword puzzles, the Internet blogosphere, the fate of print newspapers – and several other topics. It was just a beginning. Two more sessions, scheduled for July and August, are open to the public. The results of those conversations will provide fodder for even deeper discussions with journalism experts at the Centennial Celebration in September.

What do you want from your radio, television, newspaper and Internet news? And how have technological advances changed those needs?

­— Kristee Sherry

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John Schultz June 27, 2008 | 4:55 p.m.

The best deterrent for running red lights is to up the fines drastically and increase enforcement efforts, probably with motorcycle officers. Cameras will not cover all of the problem intersections in Columbia, certainly not at a reasonable cost.

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