COLUMBIA — Columbia police met with Third Ward residents at a town hall meeting Thursday night to discuss crime in the ward, as well as efforts taken by the department to improve community relations.
Fewer than 30 people attended the meeting, which was held at Blue Ridge Elementary School, and was arranged by Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala. Skala said he stole the idea from a town hall hosted by Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill. That meeting drew hundreds of residents.
Skala, who lives in the Hominy Branch neighborhood , said problem areas include the Indian Hills neighborhood, the Benton-Stephens neighborhood and the area of Whitegate and Quail drives.
He said crime problems plaguing these neighborhoods include vandalism, stealing and break-ins, which are often committed by youths.
Some past incidents indicate that Third Ward residents have more to worry about than stolen bikes.
In February, Ronald Brown, 18, was fatally shot at the parking lot of the Ballenger Liquor and C-Store at 2201 Ballenger Lane, located in the Indian Hills neighborhood. In 1994, a triple murder – Columbia’s most brutal crime – occurred at that location, when the store was a Casey’s General Store.
In July, Terrell Williams, 29, was shot on the 2600 block of Quail Drive while walking home from a party, but he survived the attack.
At the meeting, police discussed different methods of enforcement used throughout the city, including the department’s new Street Crimes Unit, the bait car program and geographic policing, which is a beat system that distributes officers to areas with a greater need of enforcement, as opposed to the current system that evenly distributes officers to the city’s beats.
The beat system began shortly after Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton was hired in April. He said it would take about 12 to 18 months to fully implement the system, and because officers would remain in their assigned areas, it could help relations between the department and the community.
“I want you to know who the officers are that are working in your community,” Burton said.
The improvement of communication between police and residents was the most discussed topic.
“We need to use police resources, and the police need to use our resources to get a handle on this because we don’t like the way we’re living,” Skala said.
One method of increasing community involvement that was mentioned was neighborhood watch programs.
Leann Campbell, leader of the Lakeshire Estates neighborhood watch, said the presence of the officers and their dialogue with the citizens in attendance made the night a success.
"We have people talking now about how we can minimize crime in our neighborhoods and our community, and I think that is the first step to helping prevent crime in the future," she said.
Jeff Johnson, a resident of the Third Ward who lives in Springdale Estates, said he would like to see similar forums across the entire city.
"We have to work together, and I have not heard that in any other panel like this, so I'm thinking all the City Council and each ward need to sit down and talk about what they can do to help each other."