COLUMBIA — A new Downtown Police Team will make its debut on foot, bike and horse starting Sunday, focusing on graffiti, panhandling and violence in bars.
Columbia Police Capt. Stephen Monticelli and Sgt. Chris Kelley hand-picked the six officers who will work under Kelley on the new Downtown Police Team. At the Special Business District board member's meeting Tuesday afternoon, Chief Kenneth Burton said the new downtown team will be testing "geographic policing" citywide.
"We want to see what kind of response we get and see if it's something we can apply to the entire city. Downtown seemed like an obvious place to start," said Burton, who moved into a loft apartment in downtown Columbia after his arrival in town in April.
"You're going to see these guys downtown all the time," Monticelli said at the Special Business District meeting, referring to the seven officers standing in the at-ease position behind him.
Monticelli said the officers will focus on graffiti, panhandling, traffic, special events and downtown quality of life, referring to the bar scene — especially fights.
"We're going to get the bars back under control," he promised.
In late March, 16 officers responded to a bar fight at Club Generic on Broadway. As the bar let out into the street, the crowd became chaotic. Officers used Mace, and six club-goers were arrested.
Kelley, who is the supervising officer for the team, said high visibility is a key component to the plan for downtown.
"I think if we're going in (bars) and they see us going through there more often, we're going to see less fights," Kelley said.
Burton said in the meeting the team's first priority was to get Friday and Saturday nights under control.
"Bars are a part of a college town, and we want them to be successful within the parameters of the law and without infringing on other citizens' rights," he said.
Special Business District board members said they liked the idea of the new team, especially Special Business District board chairwoman Mary Wilkerson. The business district has been looking for a solution to downtown crime for months. Wilkerson sees the downtown police team as a way to make downtown safer.
"I'm almost dumbfounded, I'm so excited," she said.
Immediately after the Police Department's presentation, Mike Vangel brought up concerns from The Rome owner Cory Hodapp, who came to the Special Business District's April 14 meeting to discuss possible solutions for the homeless activity outside his Ninth Street restaurant.
At Tuesday's meeting, with the police presentation fresh in its mind, the board informally decided to send Kelley an e-mail about Hodapp's concerns.