The Columbia Police Department plans to re-establish a central-city community policing program in January if the City Council approves an increase in manpower in the 2005 fiscal budget. The council is expected to vote on the budget today.
The department is looking to fill two sergeant positions, one of which would be assigned to the program, known as the Fourth Squad, that would send swing-shift officers to a portion of Beat 50 to increase police presence there. The other hire would supervise officers in the east district.
Officers working the 7 p.m.-3 a.m. swing shift now do not have a sergeant officially assigned to them.
“The sergeant and a group of officers will always work the same geographic area on the same day,” Police Chief Randy Boehm said. “The concept behind that is to develop community policing projects. By putting supervisors together with these officers, we plan to implement some type of Fourth Squad.”
The department focuses most of its current swing-shift resources on downtown, East Campus and the central city, although some of these officers are assigned to other beats.
About half of all arrests made in Columbia from January 2003 through August 2004 occurred in the five beats that include these areas.
Last spring, First Ward residents criticized the police department during a town-hall meeting sponsored by Councilwoman Almeta Crayton. Those attending maintained that police repeatedly stopped people for little or no reason and engaged in racial profiling.
Boehm said the department must balance between over-policing and not policing enough.
“We’re trying as best we can to meet that appropriate balance,” Boehm said. “That’s a challenge for us.” Currently, sergeants from the third shift supervise the swing-shift officers.
“We just made up the difference by spreading sergeants a little thin,” said Capt. Marvin McCrary, commander of the west district. Boehm said the third-shift sergeants average 10 officers under their supervision. This average would be reduced to six officers by adding the positions.
Last spring, the Columbia Housing Authority’s administrative safety officer, Don Schmidt, began noticing a rise in activity in the public housing area, part of which is in Beat 50. After criminal incidents that took place in public housing neighborhoods July 4, the Columbia Housing Authority governing board sent a letter to the mayor and the City Council asking that the Fourth Squad be reinstated.
“The central city definitely needs the support and involvement of the Fourth Squad,” Housing Authority Commissioner Fred Parry said.
“The area is very vulnerable, not because of the people that live there, but the people who prey on the people who live there,” Parry said.
The Fourth Squad began patrolling the public housing neighborhoods in 1990. Officers on the squad worked the same days in the same area. The Fourth Squad was dismantled when the department adopted the current beat system in 1997.
The department is asking for a budget increase to allow two sergeant positions to supervise the swing shift, one for the Fourth Squad in the west district and another for officers in the east district at an estimated cost of $188,000. The department also is seeking council approval for an additional $91,150 to hire an officer for the Community Action Team.
Sgt. Danny Grant supervises the three officers assigned to the team that was created in 1998 to focus on crime trends and long-term problems in the community.
Grant gives an example of how the officers work together in the recent arrests resulting from a large block party on Juniper Drive. The Community Action Team is currently looking into the issue by talking to landlords to see if certain people should be evicted.
The team also conducts alcohol roundups. During the weekend of Aug. 28 and 29, the team wrote 79 nuisance charges.
“They just have the workload that necessitates a fourth officer,” Boehm said. “They do some of their work in pairs.”
Hiring will begin Oct. 1 for the new positions if the council approves the budget. The council is expected to vote on the budget at 7 p.m. today at City Hall, 701 E. Broadway.