COLUMBIA — As they sipped coffee and orange juice Wednesday morning, Columbia City Council members, Boone County Commissioners and Columbia Board of Education members discussed ways to lower youth crime rates and give kids positive alternatives.
The meeting started a discussion Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said will continue when she, Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller and board president Michelle Gadbois meet next month. She said they will identify a few short-term goals and move toward tackling larger problems.
Many of those present at the breakfast said it was good to see the city, county and schools work together on youth crime issues. Nauser drew on conversations with law enforcement officers in Columbia and Miami, where youth crime has been lowered, to introduce possible solutions. The conversation focused on curfews but also touched on school uniforms and alternate activities. A city and county curfew was presented as a way to keep kids off the streets at nighttime. Columbia doesn't have a curfew, but Nauser said all the surrounding communities except Boonville and Mexico have curfews.
Northern District County Commissioner Skip Elkin said the curfew in Hallsville is effective, and vandalism has almost stopped. Hallsville applies to those younger than 17 and prohibits them from being out between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. through the week. Hours are extended until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Board member Jan Mees asked if research could be done to see if and how curfews work in other college towns because she said the makeup of Columbia, which includes college students, is different than surrounding communities. Some discussed whether a curfew would affect those younger than 16, 17 or 18.
A curfew could offer leverage for police officers, who right now might have no other reason to stop teens just for being out late at night.
Nauser said measures such as curfews might keep kids from entering the juvenile detention system.
"It's not just to have the hammer of the law down on these kids," she said.
Nauser also said she hopes children who have unsafe or undesirable home environments can get resources or help.
Board member Steve Calloway said disparities in the roles of city and school administrators have contributed to some of the problems.
"We don't need more police," he said. "We need police to take a different approach with kids, whether in schools or on the streets."
He also said it was important to give kids alternatives to being out late at night, and he said partnering with nonprofit and social service agencies could help. Board member Karla DeSpain raised the idea of keeping school buildings and media centers open after school hours to give kids places to go.
Nauser called the meeting "a very positive first step," and said she was pleased with the way the separate groups discussed common issues.
To read more about what city council and school board members had to say about the idea of school uniforms in Columbia, go to SchoolHouseTalk.wordpress.com.