COLUMBIA — By breaking into subcommittees, the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence has done something that doesn't normally happen in city government, said Laura Nauser, Fifth Ward councilwoman and task force co-chair.
The task force is analyzing data from homicides in Columbia over the last five years, searching for similarities between the crimes. Members have divided into four groups to break down the data.
"This is kind of a first," Nauser said after Wednesday evening's meeting. "But it's a great idea because they're taking the individuals that have strengths in those areas, so they'll be able to gather that information."
The groups are:
- A team dedicated to getting information directly from the people involved in the crime. Subcommittee members are Pam Hardin, Lorenzo Lawson and Chris Campbell.
- A team tasked with aggregating data from police and court records. Subcommittee members are Cindy Garrett and Dan Hannekin.
- A team compiling data from news media, social media and other publicly available databases. Subcommittee members are Tyree Byndom, Jerry Taylor, Christopher Haynes and Steve Calloway.
- A team to find out what organizations, programs and services people involved in crimes were participating in. Subcommittee members are Paul Prevo, Glen Robertson and David Thomas.
Byndom said he believes that breaking into focus groups was preferable to dividing up the crimes by year, which was a proposed method the task force decided not to use.
"I think it plays to our strengths," Byndom said. "It gives us consistency."
At the previous task force meeting, Hannekin was assigned to create a list of national drivers of violence, so the subcommittees would know what to look for in their data. Tonight, he presented eight drivers, with the first four being the most significant. They are:
- Anti-social attitudes, commonly referred to as criminal thinking
- Anti-social peers — friends who don't support positive social behavior and encourage criminal activity
- Anti-social personality pattern, which manifests in risk-taking, overly aggressive behavior and weak self-control
- History of anti-social behavior — previous arrests or criminal history
- Family and marital factors, such as the amount of care or supervision a person receives
- Lack of achievement in education or employment — "The more satisfied they are with their job, the less likely they are to commit crimes," Hannekin said
- Lack of pro-social leisure activities — recreational and social activities to keep people positively engaged
- Substance abuse.
Task force co-chair and Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said the list of drivers will be helpful in determining motivations and factors contributing to violence in Columbia.
"I suspect that we're going to find a fair amount of prior criminal activity from some of the perpetrators of our most violent acts," Trapp said. "I just don't think that people are popping into shots fired incidents as their first dip of their toe into the world of criminality."
After Hannekin's presentation, task force members added a ninth category to the list: faith. Members felt that the presence of faith affects the path a person chooses to take when it comes to violent crime. They were especially interested in the age a person came to faith and whether that was brought on by parents or situationally.
"I thought it was an interesting conversation we had on faith," Nauser said after the meeting. "I'm glad we incorporated that into the questions that we're seeking answers to. I think faith does play an important role."
At its next meeting on Nov. 13, the task force is expected to hear presentations from Columbia Public Schools and the Children's Services Board.
It is also looking to hold a work session before the end of the year to discuss the data the subcommittees will generate and to come up with simple policy recommendations that can receive unanimous support from members. The task force's full recommendation isn't due until November 2014.
Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.