COLUMBIA — By July, five people had been victims of homicide in Columbia, and a shooting into a crowd at Tenth and Broadway downtown on a busy Friday night had people's nerves on edge. Incidents of "shots fired" seemed to happen almost daily. What was happening to Columbia?
The answer can't be found in the numbers. Data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol shows that in most of the major crime categories, the numbers have decreased so far in 2013.
Boone County's population increased by more than 12,000 people from 2009 to 2012. This increase coupled with the lower numbers of reported crime make Boone County less dangerous than it was five years ago.
Because homicides are usually unpredictable, police can't develop new prevention methods, Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Latisha Stroer said.
“The hard part of prevention on homicide is that you really don’t know when a homicide is going to occur,” Stroer said. “None of these have to do with the other one. Nobody would have foreseen that this was going to happen.”
The five homicides were:
- Feb. 1, Robert O. Hill, 78, beaten to death in Truman Veterans Hospital by another patient who was having a schizophrenic episode. The killer, Rudy Perez, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
- April 10, Brian Daniels, 46, killed in his home. The suspect identified himself as Daniels' partner and is accused of forging Daniels' will to make him the sole beneficiary of Daniels' estate.
- May 19, Brandon Coleman, 25, shot to death in an incident some say was racially motivated. Coleman was holding a man at gunpoint, and the man's son shot him. The killing was considered legally justified, and the killer will not be charged with a crime.
- June 23, Anthony Unger, 25, shot to death in what police say was a drug-deal gone wrong. Two people were arrested, and one is charged with second-degree murder.
- July 14, Tre'Veon Marshall, 17, was shot to death in McKee Park. Two teens have been charged with first-degree murder.
What else is increasing?
The Missourian analyzed data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol that compares each year, from 2009 to 2013, through September. The Highway Patrol's data is collected from incidents handled by state police, the Columbia Police Department, MU Police and the Boone County Sheriff's Department.
- So far this year, the Highway Patrol's data shows 40 forcible rapes.
- For the same period in 2012, there were 28 recorded.
- The increase in reported rapes reported doesn’t necessarily mean more people being are being raped, Stroer said. The department has been working with organizations such as True North and MU’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center to help encourage victims to come forward, and Stroer said she thinks that's playing a part in the increase.
- So far this year, the Highway Patrol's data recorded 144 motor vehicle thefts.
- For the same period in 2012, there were 138 recorded.
- However, there were more motor vehicle thefts in 2009 and 2011 than there have been in 2013.
What has decreased?
- So far this year, the Highway Patrol recorded 1,285 assaults.
- For the same period in 2012, there were 1,628 recorded.
- The 1,285 assaults was the lowest in all of the past five years by almost 350.
- Of these assaults reported to the Highway Patrol, 46 involved firearms in 2013, compared to 53 in 2012.
- So far this year, the Highway Patrol recorded 80 robberies.
- For the same period in 2012, there were 120 recorded.
- Of these robberies reported to the Highway Patrol, 34 involved firearms in 2013 compared to 51 in 2012.
- Both total robberies and robberies with firearms were the lowest in all five years.
- So far this year, the Highway Patrol's data recorded 534 burglaries.
- For the same period in 2012, there were 772 recorded.
- So far this year, the Highway Patrol's data recorded 3,084 larcenies.
- For the same period in 2012, there were 3,158 recorded.
What about shots fired?
Although shots fired are not recorded in the Uniform Crime Report, the June shooting in downtown Columbia rattled people's nerves and brought crime in Columbia to the forefront of people's minds. However, incidents of gun shots being fired decreased in 2013, as reported by the Missourian in September with data from the Columbia Police Department.
The article compared shots fired from 2013 to 2008. The 2013 data was taken through Aug. 12 and included projections for the rest of the year based on monthly averages so far.
Many reports of gun shots turn out to be just backfiring cars or other loud noises. Here are the numbers of incidents where police found evidence of actual guns being fired:
- By Aug. 12, there had been 37 reports of shots fired.
- Based on the average number of substantiated reports made each month, another 18 are predicted, which would end the year at 55 total.
- In 2012, there were 80 substantiated shots fired reports. This was the highest of any year since 2008. Eleven of these shootings took place within a 27-day period.
So why does it seem like crime is increasing?
Jerry East, the crime analyst at the Columbia Police Department, said the fact that there was a homicide every month from April through July was most likely what made crime in general seem worse than it is.
“(The public) starts seeing stuff that’s happening close to each other, and it makes it magnified,” East said. “Say two homicides happen back-to-back, (people think) Columbia’s going to hell in a handbasket when we average three in a year.”
Stroer said the growth of media has had a role in making crime seem worse.
"When I was growing up, there were three (news) stations, and now we have 24 hours of news," she said. "There was no Facebook. There was no social media. You didn’t have that information-sharing."
Michael Trapp, Second Ward councilman and co-chairman of the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence created this summer in response to the public outcry about crime, said he thinks the media pay a disproportionate amount of attention to crime when there are far greater threats to public safety for most people.
This became real to him last July when there was a shooting at Texas and Garth avenues, a block from his house. The shooting posed no real danger; the SUV that nearly struck him in an unrelated incident as he walked down the street that day was a far greater threat.
"Not having a sidewalk on my busy street is still the most dangerous thing for me about Columbia," he said.
But he worries that media-blaming sounds dismissive of people's concerns, which are real and must be addressed.
There's no crisis, he said. "It's a chronic problem that needs concerted attention in a positive way," he said.
That's the mission of the task force. "I'm still not sure what that (positive) way is, but I think mentoring has to be a part of it and community policing if we can find the dollars for more people officers."
Where do we go from here?
Since East became the department's first crime analyst three years ago, he's started mapping incidents and finding trends based on time, location and the manner in which crimes were committed.
He's found that since the school year started, there has been an increase in burglaries in predominantly student housing in southern Columbia. In many of these cases, people left their doors unlocked, he said. Meanwhile, burglaries in the county are the lowest they’ve been in three years.
Columbia police have focused prevention efforts on property crimes, which they define as burglaries, larceny and motor vehicle thefts, Stroer said. She said they remind people especially to lock their doors.
The Sheriff's Department is more focused on drug-related crimes, which Detective Tom O'Sullivan said isn't new.
“The crime situation is fairly constant here in Boone County,” he said. “Our jail is bursting at the seams; we’re out arresting people every day. ... You’ll get days where it’s slow and days where it’s real busy, but it’s remained fairly constant.”
O’Sullivan said the majority of the crimes are drug-related, including possession, violence sparked by drugs or people stealing to get money for drugs. The department has an active drug unit that strives to prevent crime and violence tied to drugs, he said.
“It’s a daily battle,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re never going to win the war, but we try to win battles every day.”
In 2013 there were fewer crimes per capita in Boone County compared to the annual average over the past five years. The data, which is collected January through September of each year, indicates only two areas of crime have increased. Numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number. Graphic by Joey Fening
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.