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Key themes emerge from Columbia violence task force, but no action

Saturday, April 26, 2014 | 7:15 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Although members of the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence had billed Saturday's work session as their first chance to make recommendations to the City Council, no action was taken during the six-hour meeting.

The task force came to a consensus on 12 common themes in regard to violent crime in Columbia, but it stopped short of making recommendations.

Common community themes about violent crime

The Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence came to a consensus on 12 common themes that affect violent crime in Columbia:

• Prevalence of drugs

• Police Department's relationship with the community and community perception of the department

• Lack of adult basic education

• Lack of early-childhood programs and education

• Lack of economic opportunity, including good employment and youth employment

• Escalation of conflicts and relational disputes among people who know one another

• Lack of mediation and conflict resolution

• Not instilling in all our children pro-social attitudes and values and an ability to gain educational skills

• Gangs exist in Columbia, but it’s difficult to tell how much of a factor they are

• Males in their 20s are most likely to be involved with violent crime

• Almost all suspects of violent crime lack vocational skills

• Almost all suspects of violent crime had a previous criminal history



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Michael Trapp, task force co-chair and Second Ward councilman, said he didn't know if there were many proposals that all the task force members could readily agree upon, though there seemed to be general agreement on a "ban the box" ordinance. The proposal would prevent the city from asking on an application whether a person seeking employment had been convicted of a felony. That question would instead be asked during an in-person interview. Private-sector jobs would not be affected.

Trapp said earlier in the meeting that the community would notice if the task force didn't take action Saturday.

However, members stressed the importance of homing in on the common themes, which are based on data the task force's four subcommittees have accrued in the past half-year.

Of the data generated by the task force, members found the information on drug use among suspects of violent crime in Boone County to be the most surprising. Task force member Dan Hannekin reported that 70 percent had severe or intensive drug problems.

"The presence of drugs is overwhelming," task force member Jerry Taylor said. "To somehow stop the drug thing is hugely center stage."

Laura Nauser, task force co-chair and Fifth Ward councilwoman, said that economic conditions appeared to be a secondary factor related to community violence, but task force member Pam Hardin disagreed.

"We can sit and say that's not a big issue, but I'm going to tell you now, if we do, we're going to come out of here with nothing because that is the No. 1 issue," Hardin said. "Unless we provide something not just for the youth but also for young men between the ages of 17 to 29 … we're just running in circles."

Another key theme is a lack of economic opportunity. Task force member Tyree Byndom said that in the 1950s, 5 percent of Columbia businesses were owned by black people, but that has dropped to 1 percent today. Hardin said it was easier in the 1970s than today for a black person to get a job.

The task force will seek community advice as it develops its recommendations to the council. Hardin, Byndom and task force member David Thomas will organize community forums called "Let's Talk About Violence." Dates and other details about the forums are expected to be set before the task force's next meeting May 8.


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Comments

Mike Martin April 26, 2014 | 10:23 p.m.

Though I appreciate the time and effort of this Task Force on Community Violence, it is, after all, just another volunteer group, this time trying to tackle a problem -- crime -- that has not only proven intractable, but grows worse over time.

I look at this task force and ask: Where's the buy-in from non-volunteer city leaders who have the power to DO something about crime?

Where's the city manager? The police chief? Have they even attended any of this group's meetings more than once? Or are they too busy crafting unpopular ways to transfer wealth -- like TIF Districts -- to the city's version of one-percenters?

As for the real solution to Columbia's crime problem -- the return of prosperity, especially to those people and neighborhoods most affected by crime -- I see no real buy in to that concept, either -- at least, not by the powers that be.

Rather than enhance residential prosperity by rebuilding infrastructure like crumbling sewers that flood basements, our city leaders "blight" entire neighborhoods, so as to better set them up for condemnation in the future.

They annually raise taxes, fees, utility rates, parking costs, and anything else they can to further impoverish the already struggling.

They've not only allowed, but bent over backward to accommodate poorly-planned, poorly-built, single-purpose -- and grossly over-priced -- multi-family housing (student apartments). It now so dominates the landscape that residential neighborhoods once on the road back to prosperity -- Hubbell St. for instance -- have been left reeling in its wake.

By spreading Rental-villes around CoMo, our city leaders have effectively shut out owner-occupied housing and residential diversity from neighborhood after neighborhood, replacing such with honey pots for crime like Aspen Heights, which has sported over 300 police calls and umpteen criminal incidents since opening less than a year ago.

And this task force led by Michael Trapp? I have yet to hear him articulate a clear vision of anything as significant as how to solve the city's most pressing problem.

So, how committed is the City of Garages and Student Apartments and TIF and Blight to resolve crime?

Right now, all it can afford to do is appoint another group of well-intentioned but ultimately powerless volunteers. Compare this with the hundreds of thousands of dollars City Hall spends on pricey consultants every year, mostly to fiddle with land-use issues.

But a $50,000 anti-crime consultant? That'll be a cold day in you know where.

-- Mike Martin
columbiaheartbeat.com

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 27, 2014 | 7:09 a.m.

Mike provides food for thought.

It's difficult not to notice a trend at University of Missouri to employ heavy use of consultants, and for a wide range of situations.

Obviously there are positives to doing that, but I can tell you from industrial experience (in this country and elsewhere) that consultants are NOT the Alpha and Omega when it comes to problem solving and permanent process improvement; however, selectively used, they can be a good aid to assisting in those matters.

Let me put it another way: when some problem has been "solved" and those consultants exit your door, what they leave behind them is YOURS, and YOU are the ones who must manage it, for better or worse.

That suggests something: even if you employ consultants to good effect, you'd better be well and closely engaged with them in their work, to be certain you understand what's been done, is recommended, and that you have both the tools and attitudes necessary to carry through on what's recommended.

Consultants get paid their fees whether or not you follow through on their recommendations, and no matter how well or poorly you do.

Who should know the most about YOUR operations, YOU or those consultants? If your answer is the consultants, you have a far larger problem than any specific one that's being addressed.

The questions and suggestions made here apply to situations other than industrial.

[Just some musings from one who has done industrial consulting, both as an employee (for consultants) and as an independent.]

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin April 27, 2014 | 9:49 a.m.

Mind you, I'm not recommending City Hall hire a paid consultant to study crime reduction or prevention strategies, but rather using the employment of unpaid citizen volunteers as an example of the city's lack of real commitment to the problem.

There are many other such examples, detailed in these stories:

CRIME PREVENTION BUST: Longtime CoMo programs suffer hard times and neglect. From Neighborhood Watch to Crime-Free Housing, City Hall seems disengaged.
http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com/index.p...

NOT AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION: Columbia leaders ignore proven strategies as crime problem soars. Prevention passed over, as a Columbia scourge gets worse.
http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com/index.p...

I also found it both telling and sad the (other) media and City Hall virtually ignored the 2nd Ed Robb Award going to police officer Tim Thomason, who founded and for years directed the city's Crime Free Housing program and later, Neighborhood Watch:

COLUMBIA POLICE OFFICER: Named Public Servant of the Year. 2nd annual Robb Award recognizes a career devoted to crime prevention.
http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com/index.p...

Thomason had publicly criticized City Hall's lack of interest in crime prevention (big mistake) at the Annual CoMo Landlords Against Crime conference, an effort I led for a few years with mixed results.

After 12 years of intense but discouraging involvement in the CoMo crime fight, both as a reporter and participant, I have concluded:

COLUMBIA'S FIGHT AGAINST CRIME: Is probably hopeless
http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com/index.p...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 27, 2014 | 11:26 a.m.

@ Mike Martin:

I understand; however, it seems to me that in both instances (your initial post and mine) there IS a common theme: either there's real commitment, or there isn't. If there's insufficient commitment, consultants alone cannot get you to where you say you want to be.

JoeMiner

(Report Comment)

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