Task force seeks hard answers to tough questions

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 | 10:06 p.m. CST; updated 7:23 a.m. CST, Thursday, December 12, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence is looking for ways to get more concrete answers to the questions it has been asking since it began meeting in August.

The task force heard from representatives of Columbia Public Schools last week, but at Wednesday night's meeting, some members said they wished there had been more to the presentation.

"I was very disappointed in the CPS presentation," Task Force Member David Thomas said. "We asked not to get the dog and pony show, and I feel like that's mostly what we got."

Thomas and other task force members were frustrated that the district's representatives did not give solid recommendations either for the task force or the district itself to implement. 

"Part of what the school district does a good job of doing is saying 'we can't do it all by ourselves,'" Task Force Member Steve Calloway said."We get that, but so what does the community need to do? They didn't answer that question."

There was also agreement that Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent of elementary education, wasn't the best person to represent the district to the task force. Members mentioned that they would have preferred to hear from Superintendent Chris Belcher or Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Jolene Yoakum.

"We got the information and had the conversation we wanted to have," Task Force Member Tyree Byndom said after the meeting. "One of the things we did not get a chance to address was flipping the tables and really asking what their recommendations were for us and what they needed."

The task force is hoping for more concrete results when David Mitchell, an associate professor of law at MU, addresses the group in January. They selected Mitchell to speak because he wrote his thesis on obstacles to re-entry into society that criminals face and has published many works on race and crime. Task force members said they hope that Mitchell will be able to make policy recommendations based on research he gathered in Missouri for his thesis.

Listening to youth

The task force also addressed a problem in its structure and research when it proposed having youth public forums where students, parents and the public could comment on community violence and what should be done about it. Currently, the task force has no youth members and hasn't been able to capture the youth voice as much as members would like.

Thomas and Dan Hannekin proposed the idea, with Thomas having done something similar on a previous task force he was involved with. There would be meetings for each of the four district high schools where task force members would primarily listen to what people say instead of presenting for themselves.

"People have angst. People feel like their voice isn't heard," Task Force Member Tyree Byndom said. "This will be a chance for anybody out there to come and participate. And we need that."

Dates have not been finalized, but the task force was looking at early March as a possible time for the forums.

Thomas said he hopes to get 100 to 150 people at each meeting. Other task force members suggested that promoting the events via social media and providing refreshments might entice more youth to come.

Task force work session

Members also discussed what they'd like to talk about at their upcoming work session, tentatively scheduled for February. They also outlined what they'll need to complete before that extended meeting.

Hannekin proposed sending a version of the task force's youth survey to homicide suspects who are currently in prison. He said about 20 people would receive the survey, which would include an open-ended comment section at the end. The task force hopes to receive that data and the youth responses before the work session.

Outside of meetings, the task force has been working in four subcommittees to generate data that members will use to evaluate different aspects of community violence. The proposed work session would mark a transition from gathering data to creating a plan of action.

"We're starting to move toward recommendations and solutions," said Second Ward Councilman and Task Force Co-chair Michael Trapp. "I understand we'll continue to take the data and continue to look for new points, but I think that will be a nice cap to that phase."

The work session would include progress reports from the four subcommittees and could include recommendations based on the data that's presented. The task force has continually said that they'd like to address low-hanging fruit, though individual task force members define that differently.

This was the task force's last scheduled meeting of 2013. It will reconvene in January.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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