Data gathering, attendance problems mar task force's progress

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 | 9:46 p.m. CST; updated 9:53 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 12, 2014

COLUMBIA — With just enough members in attendance, the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence met Wednesday, but what didn't happen at the meeting and who wasn't there was the bigger story.

The task force has run into several problems gathering its data, causing another postponement of a retreat where members have said they'll start looking at policy recommendations.

That retreat to discuss the initial findings from each of the four subcommittees was originally scheduled for January. It was then pushed back to March during previous meetings, and at Wednesday's meeting was postponed again to late April or early May.

The task force, which started meeting on Aug. 28, is waiting to receive a variety of data so it can move forward and use the retreat to make recommendations.

Task force member Dan Hannekin is waiting for state approval to submit a survey to prisoners, and task force member Cindy Garrett is waiting for feedback from the prosecutor's office before she can move forward on her data gathering. Task force member Lorenzo Lawson said it has been hard to get information from those involved in or affected by violent crime because many of those people were unwilling to talk or fill out a survey.

Although members have run into problems gathering data, they feel that doing their due diligence in research will create better policy in the end.

"We have taken the time and need to take the time to get to the facts and not make recommendations without having the appropriate information," task force member David Thomas said. "I feel confident that’s what we’re doing."

Attendance has been a problem for the group as of late. The task force's last meeting was canceled when it didn't have quorum, meaning the majority of members didn't show up. Wednesday's meeting was one member away from being a repeat performance.

Six of the 13 community members that make up the group weren't at the meeting, which caused several agenda items to be tabled until the next one.

Task force member Tyree Byndom was supposed to present information about junior youth empowerment programs, but he wasn't there.

Task force members Pam Hardin and Jerry Taylor had requested to talk about the Youth Promise Act and community policing, respectively, but those items were tabled until the next meeting due to their absences.

Task force member Steve Calloway said it's important for members of the group to show up, but he wasn't concerned by the lack of attendance.

"This is a process that’s all hands on deck as much as possible," Calloway said. "But I’m not terribly bothered by the fact that we miss a few people every time. It’s almost impossible to get a good time that works for everybody."

With all the delays, Lawson said the priority needs to be moving forward as quickly as possible.

"From April to May and on, it should be about specifics," Lawson said. "We have to go ahead and move on some recommendations, and solid ones."

During the meeting, the task force also looked over a draft report from the Columbia Vision Commission regarding public safety and law enforcement's relationship with the community.

The task force's recommendations on the draft were to make the language simpler and to create more measurement benchmarks, especially in regards to cultural competency training. But much of the discussion turned to policy recommendations members would like to make to the Columbia Police Department.

Calloway said that while people were jumping ahead and trying to make recommendations without the appropriate data, it's important to keep the end goal in mind.

"Because we’ve been at this for a while, there's a little bit of an anticipation to say ‘Hey, let’s get to some meat here,'" Calloway said. "It’s definitely reminding us that we’re trying to get to an endpoint in making recommendations."

The task force is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 26, but three of the members in attendance tonight said they would not be able to make that meeting.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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