Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence looks ahead

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 | 10:12 p.m. CST; updated 7:21 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 21, 2013

COLUMBIA — At its first meeting in almost a month, the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence focused on its future initiatives, including a timeline for possible action, preparation for future presentations and a youth survey.

Timeline for future action

The task force took a look at its schedule moving forward, which generated a lot of chatter among members. Second Ward City Councilman Michael Trapp said that although the problem of community violence is significant, it's not something that requires immediate action.

"I'm more and more convinced that this is a chronic issue rather than an immediate crisis," Trapp said. "My sense of urgency to do something quickly is not as high as it was when we began."

Other members said that if there is low-hanging fruit that can be addressed, it should be handled soon in order to affect discussions on next year's budget. Those budget discussions are expected to start in January.

The task force said it might be able to make recommendations on a couple of issues in a proposed January work session, including the number and the role of police officers in the community, the availability of programs to keep youth occupied and increasing mentoring opportunities.

Task force member Pam Hardin, who advocated for more youth programs before increasing the number of officers, said that whatever the task force recommends, its proposals need to be effective and long-lasting.

"Whatever we do, we can't do a short fix," Hardin said. "We need to get something in place so that these kids can go through a program and be in that program and get some guidance."

January will be the last month of information-gathering for the task force, and then it will move into analyzing that data in February and March. Presentations from the task force's four subcommittees are expected to begin in April. Its final recommendations are due in November 2014.

Improving questions

On Wednesday, task force members were presented with a mock-up of a survey aimed toward teens in regards to violence and gangs. At a previous meeting, the task force talked about what questions it would want to see on it.

Members gave feedback on the online survey, asking for some questions to allow respondents to choose multiple answers instead of an 'all of the above' option. They asked that some of the language be simplified so children would understand it better.

Task force member Christopher Haynes said students will be candid and their responses will be useful.

"They know more than what we really give them credit for," Haynes said. "I have a six year old, and he knows a whole lot — and he'll tell you."

Trapp said the survey is geared mostly toward middle and high school students who participate in youth outreach programs. Once the task force's recommendations are acted on, the survey could quickly be ready to go.

The task force also turned to questions it is asking itself. At its last meeting, the task force created a list of national drivers for violence. Now, those drivers have been turned into a checklist for each task member to use when evaluating suspects and victims of homicides in the city.

Columbia Public Schools to present

During the meeting, the task force prepared questions for representatives of Columbia Public Schools, who are expected to attend one of the task force's December meetings. Currently, Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent for elementary education, is expected to be on hand to field questions.

Specifically, the task force is planning to ask questions surrounding truancy, which it believes is linked to youth violence. The task force also plans to ask questions about violent behavior and how it's handled at the teacher and administrator level.

The task force would also like the Columbia School District to look at a list of homicides in the past five years and analyze it to see if any of the suspects or victims attended school in Columbia and if there are any common factors between the incidents that the schools have noticed.

The next task force meeting will be Dec. 4.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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