The map above charts the seven shots-fired events said by police to be gang-related, as well as arrests made by the Proactive Unit since the campaign began Feb. 20.
COLUMBIA — In response to a series of seven shots-fired incidents since Jan. 24 that police have declared gang-related, Columbia police officers have been conducting what they term “proactive patrols” in and around the downtown area. The patrols have resulted in 41 arrests since they began Feb. 20, but still many of those responsible for the shots-fired events have yet to be identified, Police Chief Ken Burton said.
The proactive patrol has officers from multiple units involved, including K9, Street Crimes, SWAT, Investigative, Patrol and the Vice, Narcotics and Organized Crime unit.
Public Information Officer Latisha Stroer said members of the proactive patrol do not possess any particular training or special skill set. They are officers assigned as additional resources available to proactively pursue criminals in targeted areas, rather than reactively responding to calls for service from the community.
The strategy seems to be a response to the police's long-held complaint that witnesses to crimes in Columbia are reluctant to volunteer information to the police. Police Chief Ken Burton said that is because in many cases, those reluctant witnesses are engaged in criminal activity themselves.
Burton said the major goal of the campaign is to stop outbreaks of violence. The intent is also to increase police presence around town in hopes that better visibility will foster a sense of trust from the community.
"People need to feel safe in their daily lives and not feel there's a bullet out there with their name on it," Burton said.
Units are mostly active during their shift, making more traffic stops in the area and following up on arrest warrants, Stroer said. Police said a visible crackdown on criminal activity will encourage witnesses to come forward — hopefully including those with testimony regarding the recent rash of shots fired.
But despite the department's best efforts to advertise their presence, Tracy Edwards, chief ambassador of the First Ward where most of the arrests have been made, said he hasn’t noticed any pronounced increase in police activity.
“I wish it had been done a year or so ago,” he said. As for the multiple proactive patrol arrests the police have been announcing almost daily, Edwards said, “It looks good, but are the cases sticking? To clean the streets we have to keep (the criminals) off the street."
The one that got away
In at least one case, the police's redoubled efforts have lacked that critical adhesive quality.
Malcolm DeSean Redmon, 28, was arrested Feb. 20 on suspicion of third-degree assault in connection with the 20 to 25 shots fired outside Boone Tavern on Feb. 11.
This was not Redmon’s first encounter with Columbia police, nor the first time he had been suspected of unlawful gunplay in Columbia.
In 2007, Redmon was arrested on suspicion of shooting and seriously wounding two people, one a 15-year-old boy. In 2008, he was taken into custody while on parole yet again in connection with shots fired in an arrest that turned up 117 grams of cocaine.
Despite the police’s attempts on Feb. 20 to connect him definitively to the Boone Tavern shots fired, Redmon posted bail set at $25,000 and was released the same day.
Burton said police can execute an arrest, but it's not within their purview to keep criminal suspects like Redmon off the street. "Police are powerless in that regard," he said.
Fish big and small
Still Stroer said the response from the community to the proactive campaign has been generally positive, though she admits it’s not yet clear if the patrols have solicited any new tips that may eventually lead to shooters in the recent shots-fired incidents.
What they have produced is a series of arrests for both serious criminal trespasses and minor infractions.
According to police press releases, Steven Gholson, 25, was taken into custody on suspicion of felony possession or sale of certain weapons, felony resisting or interfering with an arrest and use or possession of drug paraphernalia with a felony warrant for burglary and a misdemeanor warrant for a moving violation.
Demetrius Ware, 27, on the other hand, was caught on a “municipal charge of walking in the street where a sidewalk is provided.”
"Sometimes you catch small fish with the big fish," Burton said.