UPDATE: Police cite statistics in locking of Douglass Park lot

Thursday, January 19, 2012 | 12:55 p.m. CST; updated 4:09 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 19, 2012

COLUMBIA There’s a problem in Douglass Park, according to Columbia Police and the Parks and Recreation Department.

At a community forum Wednesday night, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said local residents and staff at neighboring Douglass High School had complained that aggressive panhandling, alcohol abuse, and drug use and sales were occurring in the park.

In response to the severity of the complaints in close proximity to a school, Hood decided to act on the suggestion of a local resident. That suggestion was that the gates to the park’s parking lot be locked when school is in session because that's where much of the illicit activity was occurring.

At Wednesday’s forum, residents complained that closing the park gates had effectively closed the park to law-abiding people in the community.

The gates were opened this morning and will remain open, a representative from the Parks and Recreation department said.

Several community members felt their park had been singled out.

Resident Daryl Williams said he felt the problems cited by police specific to the park were “going on in the whole city.”

Darrell Foster of the First Ward Ambassadors said he saw a racial bias at work in the city’s strategy. “It’s profiling and discrimination, and it polarizes us,” Foster said.

Lt. Chris Kelley of the Columbia Police provided statistics to justify the city’s position that the park deserved specific attention.

Of 65 parks in the Columbia area, Douglass Park ranked in the top three for both calls for service from city police and total arrests made in 2011. In total calls for service last year, Douglass Park ranked third with 236 behind Cosmo and Stephens Lake parks with 480 and 283 calls, respectively. In the same year, Douglass Park ranked second in arrests in response to illegal activity on parks grounds with 12, behind Cosmo Park with 18.

Kelley said these statistics are particularly troubling when considering how small Douglass Park is. While Cosmo Park comprises 533 acres and Stephens Lake Park 116, Douglass Park encompasses only 8.6 acres.

Using 2011 arrest statistics, Douglass Park had a crime density of 1.4 arrests per acre in 2011. Cosmo Park fell far behind at 0.03 arrests per acre the same year.

In outlining the police’s strategy to deal with the problems in Douglass Park,. Kelley referenced a response guide made available by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing and distributed by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The guide may be found at .

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Ray Shapiro January 19, 2012 | 1:43 p.m.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was...
("A year’s headlines:
Douglass Park has been in the news this year. A shooting April 16 injured two men. An 18-year-old man and a 25-year-old man sustained gun shot wounds in the leg and ankle, respectively. The Columbia Police Department was unsure if the fight was gang-related.

A June 12 stabbing sent two men to the hospital. The police found a broken bottle and fresh blood under the larger shelter near Rogers Street. That same night after Twilight Festival, a fight broke out among minors on the corner of Ninth and Walnut streets. The disturbance eventually grew into a crowd of 100 to 150 people and moved behind Douglass High School before police were able to disperse it. Police heard but could not confirm that someone was carrying a gun. In a rare move, the park was shut down for the rest of the evening.

On June 30, officers patrolling the area approached a vehicle in the small parking lot abutting Rogers Street. The smell of marijuana prompted a search that yielded a few grams of crack cocaine, prescription pills and a .38-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Besides issuing felony possession charges, the police discovered that three of the four vehicle occupants had outstanding warrants: Montez D. Quinn, 18, had a felony warrant for possession of drugs with intent to distribute; Bilal H. Hill, 31, had one for felony second-degree domestic assault, misdemeanor third-degree domestic assault and a misdemeanor traffic warrant; Justin E. Lewis, 22, had a felony warrant for possession of a controlled substance.

Most recently, in the early afternoon of Nov. 4, two men in a black Chevrolet Malibu pulled into Douglass Park’s smaller parking lot. Three independent witnesses say Grady F. Dortch Jr., 28, exited the vehicle and fired a small caliber handgun at Miles Heard, 28. Heard died shortly after arriving at University Hospital from bullet wounds in the right side of his chest and left thigh. Dortch was arrested for first-degree murder and armed criminal action after turning himself in a day later.

These incidents exacerbate a negative image that began in the mid-1980s with the appearance of crack cocaine. An increase in drug activity and related violence led the police chief at the time, William Dye, to form a task force in the First Ward. That, along with an added emphasis on neighborhood policing, made significant headway in cleaning up Douglass Park. Unfortunately, the efforts didn’t last, and the poor perception of the park continues to grow.")
Either close it down or place a police kiosk substation in the park. Otherwise, we're just spinning our wheels.

(Report Comment)
Steve Baumann January 19, 2012 | 2:15 p.m.

Seems like Douglas Park would be the ideal canidate for some cameras - good ones. Document the illegal activities then round'em up.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor January 19, 2012 | 2:42 p.m.

I wonder how many times the people that are complaining about the parking lot being locked while school is in session cooperated with the police when they saw something happening that shouldn't be happening next to a school?

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett January 20, 2012 | 10:15 a.m.

@"At Wednesday’s forum, residents complained that closing the park gates had effectively closed the park to law-abiding people in the community."

Hey, folks, move this on into City Council and make them realize your problem to the ultimate, and then addendum the police department expertise request for:

~42 more officers
~satellite stations out in community setting
~two officers in every car

What you want to bet - if this priority is established and met in this growing town of ours, your complaints will have made all the difference in the world.

Let's help the officers out here.

They want to keep us safe. We can trust that. May the move of the shield be constant and protective/preventive in all cases, and not after the fact, when a police department staff is stretched thin.

Move this complaint importance right on into City Council and tell them we need this in our town.

Thank you, and God bless.

~Delcia Crockett
writer, composer, teacher

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas January 20, 2012 | 4:52 p.m.

Ray, thanks for the link.

Steve, cameras were actually discussed during the Forum. Surprising to me, there wasn't any opposition expressed from the community members present when the idea of putting a camera in Douglass Park (again) was mentioned. Mr. Hood said that cameras, some working and some not, were used in the past. Along these lines, as well as with regard to closing the parking lot, concerns were expressed about how some strategies are better for dispersing problems across the community than they are for solving them.

Hogan's piece resonates with me personally because the last time I was in Douglass Park, a few weeks ago, I had someone demand that I show him I was not wearing a wire. (Really? I guess somebody was thinking that he had made it to the big time.) Much of what Hogan wrote about public perception and community relations still has broad relevance. During the Forum, however, I noticed a couple of slight deviations. Elders are speaking out against unqualified refusal to cooperate with law enforcement, and they are interested in (re)building community as well as seeing the community take ownership of and share in the responsibilities for Douglass Park.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders January 20, 2012 | 4:55 p.m.

Arrests per acre???? Seriously?

Why are we talking in terms of farm yields?

The size of a park is wholly immaterial, except for how many people it serves, which is more accurately gauged by noting the recreational services available at each location and the space they require.

For example, a basketball court takes up 570 sq ft for 10 players (57 sq. ft. per person), while a soccer field is 162,000 sq ft. for 22 players (7364 sq. ft. per person).

The difference? According to the statistics, you are 129 times more criminally inclined if you play basketball rather than soccer, per acre of activity.

In conclusion, this report is not so much racist as it is sportist, with the police showing prejudice for European soccer over that of the American game of basketball.

One can only wonder, why do the police hate America?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 21, 2012 | 10:00 p.m.

My two cents in would be:
That the "elders" focus on coordinating a neighborhood/park watch program with the first ward councilman and CPD.
Parents from K-!2 expand Parent/Teacher/Student Associations to combat gang recruitment and parents who use their children to generate "off the books" income work with our nonprofit agencies and churches to offset economic inequalities and opportunities.
Consider using a "Guardian Angels" approach if appropriate.
Guardian Angels Hit Streets Of St. Louis To Rid Neighborhood Crime

(Report Comment)

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