Downtown police force becoming data-driven

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 | 6:08 p.m. CDT; updated 9:06 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Officer Allen Mitchell (from left), Sgt. Chris Kelley and Officer Eric Hughes speak with the Quenton's Bar & Deli doorman around 12:20 a.m. on June 19. Kelley, head of the downtown police force, is using research by a Wisconsin police department to study how drinking habits affect crime rates.

COLUMBIA — Downtown police officers are using data and research to determine the causes of downtown crime.

Sgt. Chris Kelley, head of the downtown police force, is using research by a Wisconsin police department to study how drinking habits and bar policies affected crime in Madison, Wis.

The Madison Police Department study found more incidents happen near businesses that serve alcohol. The study also determined crime rates peaked as bars closed, which data suggests holds true for Columbia.

A crime hot spot map created by the Columbia Police Department's new crime analyst, Jerry East, showed the downtown police force spends the most amount of time on Broadway between Tenth and Hitt streets.

This intersection is full of bars — including The Field House, Generic, The Penguin and Eastside Tavern — and the presence of popular late-night eateries means patrons stick around after the bars close.

When the downtown police force was implemented last summer, Kelley said officers noticed El Rancho quickly became overcrowded as bars closed, which led to more fights. Some people also sit on the benches in front of Jimmy John's after the bars close and harass others, he said.

In response, officers began spending more time at the intersection at closing time, responding to incidents or encouraging patrons to go home.

Kelley said the police department is also working with the MU Wellness Center to gather data about students' drinking behaviors. An annual study the center conducts showed bars have become stricter about checking identification and cutting back excessive serving between 2005 and 2009.

The study is commissioned by the Missouri Partners in Prevention organization, which works with colleges and law enforcement to study student behaviors. Mike McBride, who works with the Missouri Partners in Prevention, said the study is one of the benchmarks for measuring the success of the downtown police force.

A big part of using data, such as the MU Wellness Center's, is about knowing what's going on and responding accordingly. Kelley said the department wants to see a good analysis of crime in the city, so it can use data to reallocate its resources and position officers strategically.

"All it takes is for one fight to break out, and it turns into mob mentality," Kelley said.

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