City Council members support stronger stance against gang violence

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 | 1:59 p.m. CDT; updated 4:20 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 19, 2013

COLUMBIA — Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser proposed creating a task force charged with monitoring gang activity and preventing violence at the City Council meeting Monday. 

In response to the shooting Saturday at Tenth Street and Broadway, Nauser said she supported establishing a permanent task force, including the Columbia Police Department, the Boone County Sheriff's Department and schools, to move the anti-gang effort into a public forum. 

Nauser said she suspects the shooting Saturday was gang-related, given the ages of the men injured and other recent incidents downtown. A news release from police spokesman Sgt. Joe Bernhard said the investigation of the shooting is ongoing.

"Until investigators know who was all involved it is hard to say if the shooting was gang-related," the department stated in a news release.

Nauser said she feels Columbia is a safe city, but she called on public officials and community members to deal with the rising problem of gang violence. Nauser said she has focused on youth and family issues since she began on the council and has recently noticed a rising trend in gang-related activity. 

"We have a growing problem bubbling below the surface," Nauser said. "And it's related to our gang activity with our youth."

Nauser said that although other public officials do not believe Columbia has a gang problem, she has noticed it through her interactions with youth. She also referenced the 2012 deaths of teenagers DeAudre Johnson, shot and killed March 13, 2012, and Bryan Rankin, shot and killed April 7, 2012, as evidence of escalating gang violence.

"When we have youth that are hanging out together, that are engaged in criminal activity, carrying illegal weapons, that have similar tattoos, are engaging in stealing and dealing drugs, we have a problem," Nauser said. "We have to deal with this." 

Nauser also called for a progress report on the downtown security cameras, although she had previously criticized their ability to deter crime. But she would still like to see reports about the how well the cameras have operated because they were "sold on the argument they would deter crime," Nauser said. 

"I would rather have hired one more police officer," Nauser said. "Have someone walking a beat downtown who can see and feel the situation." 

Nauser also talked about the importance of removing gang graffiti from public places. Nauser said she believes it is important to remove graffiti immediately because allowing it to remain validates a gang's claim to a certain territory.

"Graffiti is a gang's message board," Nauser said. "It's what they use to mark their territory and advertise what they do."

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said he believes gang-related graffiti is not as prominent of an issue as it was when Nauser began her first City Council term in 2005. The gangs have, "graduated to more obvious things," such as the shooting this weekend, Skala said. 

He echoed Nauser's sentiment that the shooting was gang-related and that a task force could help solve some of Columbia's gang-related violence. Skala stressed that cooperation between law agencies was important to solving the issue of gang violence. He also said he wants to work on correcting the perception that Columbia is a dangerous community. 

Maj. Tom Reddin, chief deputy with the Boone County Sheriff's Department, said in an email that the Columbia Police Department and the sheriff's department have worked together to combat gang violence in the past, but have never formed a specific joint task force. He also said the police, sheriff's department and federal law enforcement agencies have been working together and sharing information for years in an attempt to prevent gang violence. 

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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