COLUMBIA – The problem of tackling crime in Columbia requires both a preventative defense and a tenacious offense, according to City Council candidates.
In 2008, violent crimes decreased by 36 percent while property crimes rose by 18.9 percent, according to a previous Missourian article. Sixth Ward council candidates, like many others, blame the harsh economy for the rise in property crimes.
Sixth Ward candidate Rod Robison has said at a number of public forums that he wants to bring “balance” – his one-word campaign slogan – to Columbia and wants to curb crime by working to improve the economy. In order to do that, Robison said Columbia needs to focus on crime prevention by creating better alternatives for those inclined towards criminal activity.
“It’s possibly more of the disadvantaged or at-risk kids that need to see some hope,” Robison said. “We have to get those kids to see an alternative. If they know they can go out and make their own money, they won’t go out to steal yours.”
Robison’s opponent and Sixth Ward incumbent Barbara Hoppe had a similar view on the economy’s impact on crime rates, but Hoppe said the growth management plan that she and the city have been working on will answer many of the problems in Columbia — including crime — by helping to create a more concentrated and planned city that would be easier to manage and police.
“Once we have a growth management plan, we can create incentives for people to develop in areas where there is already infrastructure," Hoppe said. "When you do this, you help solve a lot of problems like crime. I think that is the big key. Growing in a more concentrated and planned way is what we need to work on, and that hits everything. That's an important piece of what we are doing and none of the other candidates have talked about it because they know nothing about it.”
Second Ward candidates, while not hesitant to pin part of the blame on the economy, focused on crime prevention techniques at the community level that have been favored by candidates in both wards.
"Expand neighborhood watch training,” Second Ward Candidate Allan Sharrock said. “My truck has been broken into three times since I have moved here. … Everybody’s gotta step up and look out for each other.”
Sharrock’s opponent, Jason Thornhill, supports youth offender prevention programs and finding jobs for the criminally inclined to raise “esteem." Thornhill also proposed the adoption of a law that would prevent landlords from renting to repeat criminal offenders. He said he understood such a proposal could be controversial, but he thinks the strategy could be effective.
“If they can’t live here, they probably won’t stay here,” Thornhill said. “We need to try to figure out how to keep these folks from infiltrating neighborhoods and bringing them down.”
In addition to utilizing preventative measures, each candidate expressed profuse support for the Police Department and the new police chief, Kenneth Burton, as he settles into his new setting in April.
“I’m excited about this new police chief,” Robison said. “There’s only so much we can do. We have to let this man get out there. … We have to give him some leeway and all the support we can.”
Both Second Ward candidates echoed their support of the Police Department and said they do not want its budget to be cut. In Sharrock’s case, he would want to see the budget increase and would consider constructing a second police station.
“All cities, when they hit a certain number, they have to have a second police station,” Sharrock previously told the Missourian. He also said that he would follow the chief’s recommendations on whether or not to pursue the idea further.
Hoppe said that she has continuously shown support for the Police Department through the council’s efforts, including helping to maintain a number of officers that is proportional to the city’s population and making recommendations to create a more efficient police force.
“It’s not just the number of police you have, but how you use them,” Hoppe said. “They restructured, so now they always have an experienced officer with an inexperienced officer. There were a whole series of recommendations that have been made in response to that.”
The League of Women Voters is holding a public forum for both the Second and Sixth Ward candidates, as well as the school board candidates, at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library, 100 W. Broadway.
Missourian reporter Andrew Van Dam contributed to this report.