New officers expected to improve community policing efforts in Columbia

Friday, July 26, 2013 | 5:09 p.m. CDT; updated 6:22 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 27, 2013

COLUMBIA — Three new Columbia Police Department officers to be hired in fiscal 2014 are expected to be used to patrol areas with a high number of emergency calls.

City Manager Mike Matthes announced at a presentation of the proposed budget for fiscal 2014 Friday morning that the addition of three new officers would be used to improve "community policing" efforts.

Matthes said he would like the new officers to build a better relationship with the residents in the neighborhoods they patrol, in order for residents to feel safer and more willing to provide information when the police are investigating crimes.

"It's that kind of policing that engenders relationships with the community and that's what we need right now," Matthes said.

Matthes said the two new officers and the sergeant are not expected be on the street until next July, but that the city would be looking at options to have them begin patrols sooner.

Matthes also responded to comments made Thursday afternoon by Dale Roberts of the Columbia Police Officers Association, who suggested that money used to pay for the city's operations of the 911 call center could be used to pay for more officers because those services will move under the control of Boone County in fiscal 2014.

"Their math is shocking and riddled with errors, but I don't disagree with them about the need for more officers," Matthes said.

Matthes saidthe city will continue to fund 911 emergency services until at least January and the remaining money—which he estimated to be $1.3 million—will be used to pay off the city's deficit.

Funding for the Columbia police has increased during the past few years to account for inflation and growth, but the increased funding has gone to cover pensions of officers, Matthes said.

Last year, the Columbia City Council approved a reduction to the pension plan of the city's police officers and firefighters, which was projected to save the city an estimated $43 million over the next two decades.

"Our fix last year is beginning to open up those resources to actually hire humans to do a job rather than fund the pension," Matthes said.

The budget announcement follows a summer that has included a public shooting at Broadway and Tenth Street and the homicide of a 17-year-old in McKee Park.

Matthes also said the youth anti-violence task force, expected to be appointed by Mayor Bob McDavid at the Aug. 5 City Council meeting, will also be a useful tool to address crime in the city.

"Crime is a lot like cancer, and there are many causes, and not one treatment can solve it all," Matthes said. "We have to have many approaches across the whole spectrum of reasons why people commit these crimes. The task force's job is to figure out where are we hitting it and where are we missing and how we can do better."

Other budget highlights

The $414.2 million spending plan for fiscal 2014, which is almost $5 million more than what the council approved for fiscal 2013, also includes the following:

  • Matthes said that with the exception of $1.02 million to fund the city's pension plan, the general fund for the city will be balanced. He said the city has "achieved balance" by the transition of 911 emergency services to the control of the county, removal of  health care subsidies for retired city employees next January and the decision to not renew the city's contract with Columbia Access Television.
  • Almost 21 new full-time employees are expected to be hired in fiscal 2014, which includes the three new officers for the police department.

  • Increasing fees in the city-owned parking garages by $10 a month starting Oct. 1 to help fund the overhaul of Columbia's bus system in 2014. Parking garage customers will be offered a bus pass that will allow them to ride Columbia Transit vehicles as long as they are paying for a space.
  • Funding for street maintenance will increase by $300,000 for additional resurfacing of city streets.
  • Utility rates will also increase by 5 percent in fiscal 2014, with the average customer expected to pay an additional $1.77 per month.
  • The proposed budget also raises the salary of 285 city employees to the "market minimum" of their position since they are currently being paid below the standard minimum salary of other competing cities.
  • Public hearings for the fiscal 2014 budget will be held at the Aug. 19, Sept. 3 and Sept. 16 City Council meetings. The council will hold a work session for the proposed budget Aug. 24.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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