COLUMBIA — The Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence has a sense of direction after a Thursday meeting that laid both immediate groundwork and foundations for the future trajectory for the group.
The task force agreed to four courses of action it will undertake over the next three months — creating a violence survey for teens, analyzing data previously presented, getting feedback from people who have caused or been affected by violence, and setting up a timeline for action.
In conjunction with the Youth Community Coalition, the task force will create a survey for teens about youth violence. The task force wants to know if teens think they have been affected by violence, what activities or programs teens would like to see, why teens think violence in the city is a problem and what teens think would help stop violence in Columbia.
"It's going to tell us something," Second Ward Councilman and Task Force Co-chair Michael Trapp said. "But it's only going to be a piece of the puzzle."
The task force is looking to partner with Columbia Public Schools, community organizations such as the Phoenix Programs and the Youth Empowerment Zone, and the juvenile courts system to reach at-risk youth. Members were originally expecting 50 responses, but were optimistic they could get more by including additional organizations in the planning process.
Task force member Chris Campbell said he thinks that not only will teens be willing to share, but the responses will be honest and useful to developing relevant solutions that work.
"I know these kids, and they're going to tell you what they want," Campbell said. "But it's not going to be cookie cutter from one kid to the next."
After a presentation from the Columbia Police Department and through its own research, the task force has accumulated data, specifically on violent crime in Columbia over the past five years. Now, the task is to analyze that data to spot trends and tendencies in relation to violence.
Task force member Dan Hannekin will create a list of national drivers of violence and the task force will analyze homicide motives in Columbia to see if there is a correlation. Task force member Christopher Haynes said such information will help the group better understand violence.
"I want to know their background, because it shows a pattern," Haynes said of violent criminals. "The more we see about the past, the more we can determine what in his life has driven him to where he's at."
Pam Hardin, a task force member, stressed the need to speak to members of the community affected by violence as well as those who have committed crimes to to get a clearer picture of who violence touches and why criminals go down that path.
Task Force members Lorenzo Lawson, Campbell, Hardin and Haynes will reach out to victims and perpetrators alike. Lawson and Haynes talked about going to prisons to candidly talk to criminals about their choices and what could have helped them make better ones.
Community member Cheryl Price said that making communities safer needs to be a priority for the task force. She said that violence in Columbia affects everyone, including those who are disabled.
"A lot of folks feel like they can't go out of their houses anymore," Price said. "People are getting stuck in their homes because they're afraid."
Timeline for future action
With plans set, the task force concluded by laying out a tentative agenda for the next six months.
Trapp said that the task force is still in a fact-finding phase and will probably remain there for the rest of the year. Starting in 2014, the group will devote a month to each area the task force is looking into — prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry.
After the meeting, he laid out when the public could start to see suggestions of action come from the task force, even though its full recommendation isn't due until November 2014.
"I'm thinking May we might have some preliminary results," Trapp said. "We might come to it earlier — maybe January or February — if we're able to make recommendations on particular things."
He also said that although the public may be expecting action sooner, it's important to create solutions that work as opposed to taking action based on an emotional response.
"I think there's a balancing act between acting quickly and being thorough and successful," Trapp said after the meeting. "But we also don't want to create the appearance that we're not moving towards something."
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