There was no shortage of answers at Wednesday’s City Hall session devoted to the question of how best to respond to the recent rash of shootings. The Missourian’s Laurien Rose did a nice job of summarizing them in Thursday’s paper.
Police Chief Ken Burton wants a curfew as a “tool” to keep trouble-seeking teens off the streets late at night.
Fifth Ward City Council representative Laura Nauser wants a task force and a recognition that she was right back in 2008 when she urged attention to what she calls “a growing criminal gang element in our community.”
Sixth Ward representative Barbara Hoppe, observing that “people are worried that Columbia is not a safe place to be, especially at night,” wants an “appropriate blend of prevention, intervention and suppression strategies.”
Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp agrees, with an emphasis on creating economic opportunity for the young and unemployed. Neither he nor Ms. Hoppe cares much for the curfew idea.
Mayor Bob McDavid wants more family involvement. “We need to grab our loved ones by the shoulders, look them in the eye and protect them.”
Third Ward representative Karl Skala wants to charge developers more to cover the costs of growth. (If you’re wondering about the relevance of that, his point is that police protection is a kind of “soft infrastructure” that must be paid for somehow.)
There appeared to be consensus that the Police Department is doing a fine job and that we need more cops. I’ll be surprised if we don’t also get a task force. Bill Weitkemper, who was in the crowd that nearly filled the council chamber Wednesday, has already emailed a couple of nominations for task force membership.
As I listened, I was struck by the absence of any mention of the one reality common to all the recent incidents. That, of course, is the guns that were in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. I suppose that silence reflects another reality — we gun-loving Missourians are not going to do anything to infringe on the inalienable right of any idiot to pack a pistol.
Chief Burton, sounding like the Texan he is, even commented that he isn’t bothered all that much if one thug shoots another in a drug deal. He probably sees that as one less troublemaker for his troops to deal with.
It occurred to me that maybe at least we should, while hugging our loved ones, pat them down in search of a weapon.
If you get the impression that I hope we don’t overreact to our current crime ripple, you’re right. As Councilman Trapp reminded Wednesday’s gathering, violence increases with the temperature. Coverage in the news, especially on television, can make a ripple seem like a wave.
We have plenty of problems: too much poverty, too few good jobs for young people who don’t go to college or get in trouble with the law, too many hungry children. What we don’t have is a crime crisis. Columbia isn’t Dodge City, or even Kansas City.
It seemed to me that Mr. Trapp struck the proper tone in his prepared remarks: “I encourage calm, patience and a focus on long-term positive solutions to keep Columbia safe.”
After the speechifying, I sought a bit of perspective from Chief Burton. Yes, he said, he agrees with Ms. Nauser that we have gangs in Columbia, probably 10 to 14 of them, mainly involved in drug dealing and low-level criminality and probably not linked to the Crips or the Bloods of legend.
The chief also noted that Columbia’s overall crime rate, including violent crime, is lower today than it was 20 years ago.
I encountered Mayor McDavid on my way out. He said he was looking forward to reading my solution to our community problem. His smile suggested that he wasn’t being altogether serious, but I do have a few safety tips to share.
If you don’t want to get shot, my advice is to steer clear of drug dealing, don’t pick fights with strangers and avoid the intersection of Tenth and Broadway after 10 p.m.
No need to thank me.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.