COLUMBIA — It wasn't the average Wednesday night for Derby Ridge residents, as several hundred made their way to the Tiger Shrine Club to discuss the crime surge in their community.
Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill organized a crime prevention workshop for residents, inviting members of the Columbia Police Department to also attend.
Police Chief Ken Burton, still in his first 100 days in office, was very pleased with the turnout and used Thornhill's invitation as an opportunity to create a dialogue between residents and the police force.
Indeed, the community was ready to talk. Topics such as Columbia youth, irresponsible parenting, burglaries, gun shots, Section 8 housing and the proposed curfew for minors all entered the discussion as concerned citizens questioned both the Police Department and each other.
The meeting started with an address from Burton, who said, "You have to be our eyes and ears in the community."
Capt. Brad Nelson shared that sentiment.
"Crime in Columbia is a community problem," he said. "I guarantee I have a vested interest in Ward Two. I live here."
Derby Ridge residents have noticed more crimes in the past few years, such as burglaries, drive-by shootings and vandalism.
Dennis Brandkamp, a Derby Ridge resident, has lived in the area for 20 years and said he's been concerned about crime in the neighborhood since hearing gunshots across the street from his home.
"I heard the shot, sitting in my bedroom at about 12:24 in the morning," he said, talking about his memory of the 2007 shooting. "It's not a very healthy thing."
Clearly, crime was at the forefront of everyone's mind. Yet, as Stephen Monticelli, patrol division commander, took questions, everyone quickly realized the issue wasn't solely crime-related.
Many residents expressed concern over the juveniles roaming the streets at all times of the night. The issue of a citywide curfew was addressed, which Burton said he supported.
Other residents had questions about the parents of the juveniles, however.
"Irresponsible parenting, unfortunately, is not against the law," Burton said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
Keith Waitekus, formerly of Chicago, said he was no stranger to crime, but he did have an opinion about the Derby Ridge problem.
"It seems the city has created an island of crime," Waitekus said. "We gotta give these kids a different option."
The issue of social problems and crime continued to collide as residents and police discussed the areas each of them could affect.
Many City Council members and City Manager Bill Watkins attended the meeting, giving them the chance to hear the voices of community members.
Phil Steinhaus, CEO of the Columbia Housing Authority, also attended to provide more information about Section 8 housing.
Derby Ridge residents were very concerned about Section 8 because of the number of duplexes that surround the community.
People who qualify for Section 8 housing are given a voucher to take to a rental property or landlord and rent a place from them, he said. Many mistakenly believe that certain apartments or duplexes are Section 8 housing, but that is not true, Steinhaus said.
Although the discussion became heated at points, the overall atmosphere remained light and open. At one point, Deputy Police Chief Tom Dresner addressed the crowd in an attempt to lighten the mood, saying, "Hi, I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."
Burton and Monticelli discussed the various changes the Columbia Police Department was making. "I'm a more nontraditional guy, and I'm sharing that with them," Burton said. "We're going through a learning process together."
Monticelli also discussed the reorganization of beat police. Specifically, the department plans to target crime "hot spots" such as Derby Ridge and Indian Hills by putting more officers on patrol in the area.
The traditional way of policing is to "just throw cops at the problem," Burton said. Instead, he is trying to build efficiency, and he is unsure whether the department needs more officers or just some reorganization.
As the two-hour meeting came to a close, resident Ryan Russell encouraged his neighbors: "Let's show up at city council meetings and get it done," he said in regard to the curfew, juvenile delinquency and other social problems the Police Department can't address.
Columbia police also urged residents to get involved and notify the police when something goes wrong.