GEORGE KENNEDY: Columbia has plenty of problems, but not a crime crisis

Thursday, June 27, 2013 | 7:45 p.m. CDT; updated 9:46 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 28, 2013

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.

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Ellis Smith June 28, 2013 | 6:13 a.m.

Has any comparison recently been made of crime statitics for Columbia versus U.S. cities having 100,000 population (+/-25,000)? My impression is that the federal government (FBI?) compiles that information. Would it be amiss for the local newspapers (or George Kennedy) to provide that information, rather than "he said this" and "she said that"?

That said, the subject has aspects beyond mere statistics. A person who stays away from 10th Street and Broadway at night, does not engage in narcotics dealings, does not come home to find his/her home burglarized, has not been physically or sexually assaulted, etc. might not feel the same about the current crime situation as someone else who has.

Would we like to eliminate ALL crime? For most folks the answer is obvious, but it ain't goin' to happen! Crime, organized or disorganized, has been around much longer than either Columbia or Missouri. It's here to stay.

PS: If you've a mind to collect all the guns, be sure to collect the knives too, because that's what they will revert to if guns aren't available*. But there may not be many "drive by knifings."

*- Of course there WAS no crime before there were guns, right? Aren't they teaching world history anymore? It appears to be listed as an available course at UMKC, UMSL and MS&T.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 28, 2013 | 8:16 a.m.

Ellis Smith wrote:

"Has any comparison recently been made of crime statitics for Columbia versus U.S. cities having 100,000 population (+/-25,000)?"

Yes - this is a section of the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

Just from a glance at the list, Columbia is not an outlier. It's quite comparable to Cambridge, MA, for example.

We perceive that crime is out of control, but unless one is participating in criminal activities (including hanging out with criminals), the likelihood of being involved in crime here is very small. These shootings are not random, and for people not involved in gang activities, are not a significant source of danger.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 28, 2013 | 11:59 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

Information, rather than speculation. Thanks. Definitely no shortage of speculation, however.

Do I recall something said during my formal education that the Fourth Estate has a duty to provide the public with necessary and useful informatiom? Maybe not.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders June 28, 2013 | 1:41 p.m.

Well, strong-arm robberies sure seem to be up. Which, of course, can be laid directly at the feet of the Not-Federal, Not-Reserve private global banking cartel that has systematically destroyed the value of our currency over the last century. (as most crime is economically motivated)

Given the destruction has been put into overdrive since they "saved" the economy back in 2008, (the Fed's balance sheet has quadrupled since then to $3.4T) well, it is only going to get far, far worse, as more and more find that having nothing left to lose leaves little motivation to not turn to a life of crime.

For those who don't understand the balance sheet ramifications, that growth represents all of the "stuff" they bought with their magic checkbook. This will ensure that prices will only continue to increase for the things we need, as "markets" are being magically levitated. A trick that is wholly unsustainable.

Guess what else? It won't stop until we refuse to accept dollars in return for goods and services. Until then, they steal a little more purchasing power from us all, each and every day, as society grows ever more impoverished.

If you really want to do something about crime, then it's time to focus on the real criminals, DC and Wall St. Anything less is merely maintaining ones' Hopium addiction.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 28, 2013 | 2:45 p.m.

Richard Saunders wrote:

"Well, strong-arm robberies sure seem to be up."

No they don't. Gang related shootings seem to be up. You seem to be taking an opportunity to unleash your time-worn invictive on fractional reserve banking.

I don't like it any more than you do, but without it most of us would be paupers in the streets. It allows people to borrow from the future to live better in the present. As long as the future is better than the present, it's no problem.

But the problem here has much more to do about culture and values than economics. If it's easier to make a living selling drugs (or robbing people) than working a low skill job, than some people will choose the former path. Fractional reserve banking has nothing to do with it.


(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders June 28, 2013 | 4:38 p.m.

Culture and values are wholly dependent upon living in a rational environment. My point is simply an effort to align given criminal activity with Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs."

As for the idea that robberies are not increasing, well, I don't have the numbers, but one doesn't have to be a world-renowned statistician to observe the increase of frequency of robberies of c-stores, banks, homes and other businesses.

I rail against the "Fed," as it is the primary criminal element responsible for the undermining of society that shows up as increased crime (or decreased culture and values). Also, I do so, as most people have absolutely NO understanding of the present monetary system. Or worse, a misunderstanding (like the textbook idea of a 10% reserve requirement, which is actually now almost zero). That you think this system prevents the majority from being paupers is laughable.

Each and every day of our lives, our labor receives less and less purchasing power, as the Fed counterfeits non-stop in order that DC afford their addiction to OPM. Tell me, do you believe your labor today to be worth less than yesterday? Better still, what about your savings? Should the value of your labor decline over time merely because you haven't consumed it yet? How can this form of theft NOT undermine society?

Simply put, these activities of the Fed are never sustainable in the long run, as no paper currency has ever survived the irresistible, constant debasing by its issuers. Instead it is a tool of theft, quietly, silently stealing wealth from all who are FORCED to use it (thanks to legal tender laws).

How anyone could expect the least privileged in society to develop healthy values and culture in such an environment is beyond me. As far as I'm concerned, any attempt at a fix that fails to address these underlying causes, is but tilting at windmills.

You think things are bad now, just wait until the remainder of the middle class gets wiped out (ZIRP ensures it), making the underclass the majority.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 28, 2013 | 8:52 p.m.

Richard - So, the world ends tomorrow? If we are allowed longer, should we not stop the shooting and killing epidemic created by drug dealers in our city? We've had to do it before and we must now do it again. Why not help out here, then we can all go after the Fed!

Ellis - Are you laughing or crying over the Mark F. post: "Just from a glance at the list, Columbia is not an outlier. It's quite comparable to Cambridge, MA, for example."?

Mark, as usual seems to represent the liberal position for safety of Americans, in their homes. Should we read the latest statistics before leaving home at night or in the morning? We want our city to be crime free! That can never happen, but neither must it be as prez candidate John Kerry suggested about terrorism: reduce it to a "nuisance".

We need not concern ourselves with activities of government or bankers, or how we compare with others. Our city is now unsafe for our children or adults to move freely about. It is up to us to change our situation. We did it before when K.C.'s Chris Sled brought his "posses" to Columbia. I don't recall the conversation about how it should have been done.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 29, 2013 | 6:25 a.m.


Actually (says he, now that he's finally stopped laughing) while I agree with Mark Foecking on many matters I think Mark truly has some gall comparing crime statistics - or anything else - from Cambridge, MA with Columbia, MO.

How could a city that only contains Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two decidedly second-rate private institutions of higher learning, possibly be compared to Columbia, MO, which contains University of Missouri System's "flagship campus"? I'm shocked! SHOCKED!

[I've started laughing hysterically again.]

PS (another matter): I see the Missourian's VOX Magazine has a nice article on floating Missouri's scenic rivers. Thank you! MS&T students don't have to spend much time and gasoline getting to several of those streams, and if they have a free afternoon during the week they can avoid the weekend crunch. There is also, at St. James, what is considered Missouri's finest private park (reasonable entry fee). There ARE some advantages - not many - to our campus location. :)

(Report Comment)

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