Council members set up task force to address youth violence, crime

Tuesday, July 2, 2013 | 12:13 p.m. CDT; updated 9:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 16, 2013

COLUMBIA — Members of the Columbia City Council will spend the next two weeks thinking of people to nominate for a new task force to combat youth violence and advise city officials on crime prevention techniques. 

The 13-member task force will be created within the month by City Council members, Mayor Bob McDavid said at the council meeting Monday night.

The task force will be given a year to suggest crime prevention techniques to city officials.

McDavid said residents should contact a council member to suggest ideas or volunteer for a position.

"This is a community conversation," McDavid said.

Councilwoman Laura Nauser said several people have come to her with interest in the task force.

"I think we need to make this as community-centric as possible," she said.  

Each council member will think about who to nominate for the task force during the next two weeks. 

Creating a task force to advise city officials could be the first step to enforcing a curfew for people under the age of 17.

The teen curfew was suggested by Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton at a special meeting on crime prevention Wednesday,  scheduled after four shootings occurred within nine days. Burton said he plans to present a written proposal to the council within 30 days. If the council rejects it, he said he plans to put it on a ballot for voters to decide. 

A downtown shooting at Tenth Street and Broadway left three men with non-life threatening injuries, though Burton noted the shooter was aiming into a group of 50 to 60 junior high- and high-school-age people who were following a fight. 

Some members of the council believe a teen curfew is a partial solution to the city's youth crime issue, while others believe it is unnecessary. 

In a report to council entitled "Tools and Strategies for Addressing Youth and Gang Violence," City Manager Mike Matthes wrote that the teen curfew should be combined with other efforts to effectively combat crime against and by young people.  

"There is good reason to link youth violence and gang prevention efforts together, as gangs often recruit new members at a very young age," Matthes said in his report.

The curfew is justified by the need to keep juveniles away from crime, violence and gang activities, Matthes said, as well as protecting them from becoming victims of crime.

Matthes recommends implementing a program evaluation process for the curfew. The evaluation process would involve gathering juvenile crime statistics for the years before and after an ordinance, if one approved. He also wants to measure the long-term effects of the curfew by examining its impact on young adults.

Instead of taking teenagers violating the curfew home or to the police department, Matthes suggested taking them to a facility staffed with "volunteers, neighborhood leaders or even social and psychological professionals." He said community service would be preferable to prosecution. 

"Youths and parents could agree to a process of community service or regular meetings with a mentor or professional, instead of dealing with the violation in the court system," Matthes said.

He also suggested graffiti removal, after-school programs, mentorship programs, employment programs and early childhood intervention as additional means to combat youth crime. 

Ten years ago, the council considered implementing a citywide teen curfew but one was never imposed.

"I think the community is asking for this, and I think the council is engaged in this," McDavid said. 

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