COLUMBIA — Columbia keeps growing, and so do its law enforcement needs. As Ken Burton moves into his second year as chief at the Columbia Police Department, he continues to promote progressive ideas that would change the culture of his department, its relationship with the community and the way it deals with crime.
In January the department introduced a new beat map incorporating two new sectors and strategies for geographic policing. These strategies are part of Burton's long-term plan to create a more community-oriented, user-friendly police force, a plan he discussed Friday at the City Council's annual retreat.
Geographic policing focuses law enforcement on high-crime areas; increased visibility of officers downtown, for example, should deter weekend bar fights. In addition, Burton has repeatedly emphasized the relationship-building aspect of geographic policing. Residents and officers should become more comfortable with one another — even under ordinary circumstances — as officers continue to patrol the same area and become a fixture in the neighborhood.
Geographic policing can also help to prevent crime; officers may become more familiar with their patrol area and can identify risks and take action before a situation gets out of hand.
This was Burton's second appearance at the retreat. Last year his presentation — which outlined his rookie goals and backed them up with statistics — drew applause; this year his request for 20 additional staff members to help meet those goals garnered a less-enthusiastic response.
Council members and city staff weren't optimistic about funding for Burton's request; according to the Missourian's previous article, the city needs to cut $1.7 million and is not in a position to add new staff.
But the chief soldiers on in his attempt to create a new "we are the police, and we are the public" mindset in his department; already he has introduced plainclothes patrolmen and changed Taser policies to make officers seem less threatening to citizens.
Are additional officers and geographic policing good solutions to Columbia's crime problems?