COLUMBIA — Immediate action from the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence may be delayed by a decision made during its meeting Wednesday to research the problem of youth violence first. But Co-chair and Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp believes the task force needs to know more about the problem before it can be solved.
"There's a sense of urgency and immediacy towards wanting to take action, but we kind of shelved that and focused on understanding the phenomenon better," Trapp said after the meeting. "So the basic approach we're going to take to begin is to look at some specific gun-related violent crime incidents over the last two years and what are the drivers behind it."
Trapp said that action could be taken on some of the "low-hanging fruit" — problems the task force agrees are serious issues that should be addressed as soon as possible — in four to five months. The task force has until November 2014 to make its final policy recommendations.
During the meeting, task force member Pam Hardin commented on the speed the task force was moving forward and the amount of research being requested before any action would be taken.
"One of the things I really am concerned about is research is good, but I just don't want to see us get so hung up on research," Hardin said. "We have to really get about being busy with doing what we have actually been assigned to do."
At the previous meeting, members were asked to come up with research questions they'd like the task force to address. Each member of the 13-person panel had questions to present, and many were similar.
Trapp grouped the research questions into two categories: proposed actions and areas where more research is needed. Trapp said that though the focus of the questions presented were about 80 percent on proposed actions and 20 percent on research items, the task force felt it was important to conduct research on youth violence in Columbia first.
Specifically, the task force will be examining violent crime incidents in 2012 and 2013 in which a perpetrator was identified. Members plan to look at common themes between the incidents and what the causes for the violence were. The task force decided to ask for input from the Columbia Police Department to help formulate and analyze the list.
There was some discussion about the other two items on the agenda — generating youth involvement and community organization involvement with the task force — but decisions on those two issues were pushed back to the next meeting. Three representatives of community organizations and two residents spoke during the public comments section.
Trapp admitted that though the task force didn't move in the same direction he would have or that he had anticipated, he sees the task force addressing the problems of community violence in an effective manner.
"It's not the approach I would have taken," Trapp said after the meeting. "But that's the genius of having a citizen group. You pull together all these great minds, we hash out questions, we talk about them as a group, someone makes a proposal, and if nobody has a serious objection and many of us agree with it, then we know that we're probably on to something."
Trapp said he'd like to see a comprehensive assessment on violence completed. He also said it's important to evaluate the successes and failures of current projects and programs.
Trapp also said after the meeting that he'd like to see the task force look into making a recommendation to the Columbia City Council on exactly how many new officers the Police Department needs. Mayor Bob McDavid proposed hiring 35 officers with a property tax , a move he no longer supports, while Police Chief Ken Burton requested 38 officers. City Manager Mike Matthes included funding for three officers in the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
The research that task force members will be doing on violent crimes during the past two years is not the end of the analysis either, Trapp said.
"I suspect that research will lead toward more research," Trapp said after the meeting. "There a lot of great ideas of things that we can do to improve. But if they would not have impacted those situations, then they're probably not what we want to recommend right now."