COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department's new Street Crimes Unit will start its work on Monday, Capt. Brad Nelson said.
On Friday, the department announced the creation of the unit with the purpose of combatting violent crime in the city. Nelson, who will oversee the unit, said the work would disrupt the lives of "career criminals" and build cases against them. "Career criminals" are individuals who continually engage in violent crimes over a period of time, Nelson said.
"There are some names we just know," Nelson said. He said others would be identified through gathering intelligence.
The officers on the unit will also use targeted traffic stops. Nelson said the officers would need to establish probable cause before pulling over a vehicle, but that they would rarely issue traffic citations. He said officers can't always know who is in the vehicle they're pulling over, but when they determine that they aren't an individual they're targeting, they'll be released with a warning.
"The goal is to make it uncomfortable for career criminals to live in the city of Columbia," he said.
The unit will also respond to areas that have seen an increase in violent crimes in the past four to five years.
"The ability to throw additional resources at them has been shown to be very effective," Nelson said. "Our resources are the street crimes unit. Four officers, you know, they can do a whole lot."
Nelson said this practice, called "hot-spot" enforcement, will help to displace career criminals, either through arresting them or police presence in the area. He said the "hot spots" they patrol would change frequently.
"Violent crime can happen anywhere in the city," he said.
The unit will also work to stop "open-air" drug dealing and arrest people involved in gang activity.
Officers Cathy Dodd, Chad Gooch, Thomas Quintana and Don Weaver have been assigned to the unit, which will be supervised by Sgt. Brian Richenberger. Nelson said the officers wouldn't immediately receive additional training, but that training for officers working in street crime units is available and that the department would be looking for those opportunities.
Nelson said the officers had to apply by writing a letter explaining why they were interested. A board made up of two Columbia Police Department sergeants, a captain from the Kansas City Police Department and an agent from the Drug Enforcement Agency interviewed the candidates, then made the final selection.
Nelson said the board looked for officers who demonstrated initiative, self-motivation, individual thinking and level-headedness.