City Council candidates discuss crime

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missourian reporters asked candidates for seats on the Columbia City Council nine standardized questions about city government issues. Here are their verbatim answers to a question about crime.

Overall crime decreased in Columbia from 2011 to 2012. Please discuss your views of crime in the city and on what fronts police need to focus their efforts?

Mayoral candidates

Bob McDavid: "Our crime rate is a little over four per 1,000 population, which considering other cities like Jeff City, Kirksville, Cape Girardeau, Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis, it is low. It’s low. But it’s still four too many — that's four crimes too many. We need to have a police presence, we need to have police training, we need to have police interaction at the hot spots, and we need neighborhood policing, and we need everybody working together on the same page for this. We need a citizenry that is respectful and satisfied with the Police Department so they can openly interact and exchange. And we need a Police Department that treats itself as a customer service organization – that they are representatives of the city and their job is to help citizens in a very positive way. And I think we’re going to see that as we move ahead."

Sid Sullivan: "Well, I think the police do a good job in terms of trying to promote Neighborhood Watch. There's always a problem when you have crime and when you have a perception of crime. Generally the perception of crime follows the crime itself, so even though crime is declining there are a lot of people that feel it's really rising. So we need to have the things in place with the Neighborhood Watch that police are providing those kinds of avenues where the neighborhood can call the police when they see something suspicious in the neighborhood. In terms of police on the street, we try to get them into neighborhoods where they recognize people and people recognize them, and I think that's what we're doing now. In terms of providing additional police, that's really up to the city budget as we can find funds to increase the number of police officers."

Third Ward candidates

Karl Skala: "Well, it is true that crime has decreased, although not for those who are victims. For them, crime is a very real issue, and we always have to look after the public safety. That’s one of the primary responsibilities of our government. I think that one of the ways to get towards effective community policing really has to do with changing the entire structure, even getting the command staff out to interact with the folks. It gets back to that issue that I was referring to before: the public trust. Without the public trust we really cannot get a good handle on crime, generally. There will always be crimes of opportunity. That will always exist. But the kinds of programs like the program that’s going on in Douglass Park, for example, is a good way for the police to interact with the community and gain that public trust. That way, the community will be more likely to get out and about and feel safe in their own neighborhoods."

Gary Kespohl: "I'm told by the police chief that 99 percent of the violent crime — the shootings, the drive-by shootings and all those kinds of things — are drug related. Columbia has become a stop-off place between Kansas City and St. Louis to sell drugs. I've started Neighborhood Watch programs in six of my neighborhood associations in my ward, and in those (neighborhoods), if you check the numbers, crime's gone down because the word's out that those people are watching their streets. And they know the beat officer, the guy who drives through their neighborhoods, on a first-name basis. They have his cell phone number; they can call him any time they need to, day or night. Him or her. So, they become friends on a first-name speaking basis. So those people that are on Neighborhood Watch, block captains, aren't afraid to call the police when they see something going on. I think that's helped with crime. It has in the Third Ward, at least."

Fourth Ward candidates

Daryl Dudley: "Right now I think they need to focus it on speeding. A common complaint from everybody that I hear every time I go anywhere for a forum or anything else is how to get people to slow down on the streets they're on, whether it's a residential street or Broadway, Stadium, a main street. People speed a lot in this town, and they need to be taught to slow down. ... Crime is coming down as far as the break-ins and shootings. We’ve had a lot more shootings of late. We know where the places are. Every time you see a report it's coming from the same area. We need to start looking at those areas. We know who is doing it. We need to start charging those people and getting them off the street. There’s a lot of shootings in the Gateway area right now, and some other areas ... but in certain areas where there's a lot of shootings right now, and we know who is doing it, we need to get those people off the streets and keep them off the streets."

Ian Thomas: "Well, as I mentioned in the previous question, I think community policing is the way to go. It builds social capital for the police, the uniform police officers to be on first-name terms with the residents in the neighborhoods, particularly the community leaders who are the connectors to the rest of the residents. I would like to see further efforts to empower the neighborhood associations, especially in the First Ward where a lot of the gang- and drug-related crime takes place. If we can empower law-abiding, responsible citizens, connect them with the law enforcement officers, build that trust, then I think we can really get ahead of that."

Bill Weitkemper: "If overall crime decreased, that would come as a surprise, because the crime you hear about is the violent crime. I think it seems to have increased. The gunshots and things of that nature. I guess we could use more police officers, more enforcement, a better court system. It’s kind of disappointing when you read about how somebody’s arrested or has been arrested 40 times before. The court system seems to be letting them out of jail quicker than what they ought to. And jobs would help. If some of these kids had jobs, they wouldn’t be possibly out committing crimes."

Missourian reporters Hannah Cushman, Elizabeth Pearl, Tony Puricelli, Madeline O'Leary, Chris Jasper, Allison Prang and Nuria Mathog contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

To hear audio clips from the candidates, go to the Missourian's local government blog, The Watchword.

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