COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department's presentation to members of the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence sparked conversations about violent crime statistics in Columbia, police and community relationships and perceptions and solutions surrounding violence in the city.
The Police Department was the first group that task force members asked to hear from after deciding at its previous meeting to focus on gathering research before creating policy proposals. The Police Department presented information concerning names, ages and races of suspects and victims of homicides in the last five years.
The Police Department's presentation and subsequent task force discussion took all the allotted meeting time, so members pushed addressing youth and community organization involvement back for a second time.
Violent crime statistics
Police Capt. Brian Richenberger led the presentation, with Detective Jonathan Logan and Officer James Meyer providing more specific information. Richenberger said a quick analysis of homicides in the last five years made it clear that males age 17 to 25 were more likely to be both suspects and victims than other age groups or genders.
Richenberger also outlined other trends to the task force.
"Drugs are usually involved," he said. "The victim and suspect typically know each other. These are not random crimes, for the most part. There might also be some gang-type activity."
Violent crime typically picks up in late March and dips in mid-October, both Richenberger and Logan said. They said some possible causes were schools being let out during those times and the weather allowing more people to be out and about.
Logan said that part of the problem stems from gangs and that teenage involvement in gangs can lead to homicides after children have grown up in that culture.
"Right now in Columbia, we have a gang issue for sure," Logan said. "We are starting to see kids as early as 12, 13, 14 years old starting to become a part of this gang culture or espousing this is where they're wanting to go."
The number of gangs and gang members is hard to track in Columbia because gangs here are more transient and less territorial than those in larger cities, Logan said.
Logan also said there are more armed gang members and criminals than there have been in years past. He said that many of the guns used in homicides are stolen and that most theft occurs because of unlocked homes or car doors.
Police and community relationships
Meyer said the department wants to move toward a community policing model and such a framework is the best option police can take.
"We're down there with the people every day talking to them and treating them like people, so they have a better understanding of how our job works or how we work, and we have a better understanding of them," said Meyer, who covers the Douglass Park area.
Task force member Pam Hardin said the department has a long way to go before they get to that point, especially with the black community. She said that some arrests were not made when people felt they were warranted. As a result, the relationship between the black community and police is not as strong as it needs to be.
"You're saying you've seen it get better. We hear it's getting worse," Hardin said. "The trust issue that is there is really, really extremely low."
Logan said even if police are able to transition to a community policing setup, it would require involvement and good faith from the public.
"Building the rapport with the community is very important," Logan said. "However, it's got to be from the community itself that re-emphasizes and says 'Hey, look, we've got to work with the Police Department.' This whole no-snitch thing has got to go."
Task force member Tyree Byndom applauded the department for looking into the transition but said more needs to be done.
"I think what we're finding out is some of those things are probably needed now," Byndom said. "And it's probably a public conversation because your guys' success is the same as ours."
Perceptions and solutions
Police Department presenters said one of the struggles the department and the task force face is combating the allure of criminal life. Richenberger said that because criminal life is financially lucrative, it can be hard to dissuade young people from going down that path. Lawson said that the appeal of crime is not limited to just gangs.
"It's a culture of criminality," Lawson said. "It's a grouping of kids who believe it's cool to do these things."
Byndom disagreed, saying the attractiveness of crime doesn't come from its appeal but because there are no other alternatives.
"I know you mentioned cool, but for a lot of the young guys I've talked to, it stems from a lack of hope, and from frustration," Byndom said. "Young people come and ask me, 'How do I get out?' So I'm seeing desperation. I'm not necessarily seeing cool."
Task force members agreed to invite representatives from Columbia Public Schools, Boone County Mental Health Court and the Children's Tax Fund to speak at future task force meetings..
Members also requested additional analysis from the police. In particular, they wanted to know what time of day crimes were being committed, geographical locations of crimes, prior criminal history of offenders and how crime in Columbia compares to cities of a similar size and build.
Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.