COLUMBIA — Public safety and downtown cameras were the focus of the City Council candidate forum hosted by Keep Columbia Safe on Wednesday night at Boone Electric Cooperative.
Tom Bradley of Eagle 93.9 FM moderated the event and posed questions regarding public safety. Candidates took turns answering and were limited to 90 seconds to respond to each question.
First Ward Candidates
First Ward candidates all agreed public safety is a main priority in their ward.
Mitch Richards said public safety considerations should emphasize the prevention of violent and property crimes.
“It’s a question of priorities,” Richards said. “We have to be very careful where we spend our money.”
But Richards also said he would oppose any tax dedicated to improvements in public safety.
“From an economic perspective, the last thing we need to be doing is raising taxes,” he said. He said working within the current budget to prevent crime should be the focus rather than implementing a tax for increases in public safety personnel and programs.
Pam Forbes, who brought her symbolic pink stool, said violent crime can affect the local economy.
"That can be a direct effect on the commerce and how well our city does in attracting jobs and new businesses to the area," she said.
Though Forbes indicated that violent crime is increasing in Columbia, the city's violent crime rate — adjusted for population growth — has remained relatively flat, according to a previous Missourian article.
Darrell Foster said Columbia doesn’t need more police. He would like more money put into education, community programs and prevention measures that can help curtail crime.
Fred Schmidt said because the police are short-staffed already, cutting the public safety budget would have a negative impact.
All four First Ward candidates opposed the installation of downtown cameras — a result of Proposition 1, a ballot initiative that won approval in the April 2010 municipal election. A majority of First Ward voters rejected the proposition in that election.
“The voters spoke on this,” Schmidt said. “The city overwhelmingly voted for them. Ward one voted overwhelmingly against them.” He noted the cameras are a “perception of safety.”
Richards has been a stark opponent of the downtown cameras since their inception. “(The cameras) are going to have some deleterious effects on our quality of life,” Richards said.
Foster focused on the budgetary constraints of installing the cameras.
“We can use those resources in a more positive, constructive way,” he said.
Forbes said surveillance in and of itself is not the issue.
“You can be (under surveillance) no matter where you are,” she said. “(It’s) whether or not the city should pay for that surveillance and where they’re going to put those cameras.”
Fifth Ward Candidates
For the Fifth Ward, Helen Anthony and Glen Ehrhardt shared similar views on public safety, downtown cameras and the issue of the Police and Fire departments' pension plans.
Although she voted against Proposition 1 in the municipal election, Anthony said she would support the proposition if elected to the council.
"The Fifth Ward voted in favor of the cameras, and I will absolutely support them going in,” Anthony said.
Ehrhardt supported Proposition 1 from its beginning.
“People are concerned about coming to Columbia because of this perception of crime,” Ehrhardt said. “We have limited resources, but public safety is one of my priorities in this campaign.”
Ehrhardt also said if elected to the City Council he would look for additional ways to promote public safety and attract new businesses to Columbia.
Both Anthony and Ehrhardt said they viewed the retention and recruitment of public safety workers and the pension plans of these workers a priority.
“We should deliver on our promises to our Police and Fire departments,” Anthony said.
Ehrhardt said that if elected to the City Council, he would push to fully staff the Fire and Police departments.