Extra police patrols in several central Columbia neighborhoods seem to be helping curb shootings this summer.
Columbia police responded to more than 20 shootings between May 1 and July 1, with more than half of those shootings coming from Beats 40, 45, 50 and 55, located in central Columbia, Capt. Brad Nelson said.
Nelson said the last reported shooting in central Columbia was on July 6 in the 400 block of Oak Street.
“For a time there, you couldn’t go a day without getting a report about a shooting,” Nelson said.
No one has been killed in the shootings, although a number of Columbia residents have been injured. The last reported gunshot victim was a 23-year-old man who was accidentally shot in the back in the 800 block of Mikel Street on June 28, Nelson said.
Nelson said the patrols, which include members of the department’s Community Action Team, focus on investigating suspicious behavior, targeting potential suspects before they commit crimes.
Nelson gave this example:
On June 25, two officers on foot patrol saw a subject on Bryant Walkway, a sidewalk behind two Columbia Housing Authority buildings. The officers knew the suspect, 17-year-old Oquendo J. Harris, from “previous contacts” and found out he had been barred from CHA property by housing administrators.
When they attempted to talk to him, he fled, prompting officers to chase him through an apartment. After catching him, officers discovered that during the pursuit the suspect had hidden a loaded .22-caliber revolver underneath a child’s bed in the apartment.
Harris was arrested on suspicion of unlawful use of a weapon, first-degree child endangerment, first-degree trespassing and a probation and parole violation.
Officers have worked about 100 hours of overtime during the extra patrols, Nelson said. The extra enforcement is ongoing, but limited, he said.
“At this point they are random, partially by design, partially by budgetary constraints,” Nelson said.
Officers get paid time and a half for working overtime on the patrols, Nelson said.
Nathan Stephens, a member of the First Ward Ambassadors, a youth mentoring group in central Columbia, agreed the patrols have helped reduce the number of reported shootings on city streets.
“I think the patrols have served as a deterrent to some would-be criminal activity,” Stephens said. “The stepped-up presence makes people think twice.”
Stephens also cited the community’s willingness to cooperate with police and black leaders acting as mediators between feuding groups as two contributing factors to the reduction of violence.
Lana Jacobs, director of the St. Francis House homeless shelter, said she occasionally drives around her central Columbia neighborhood with First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton to look for disturbances.
“Older people are afraid to come out of their homes because they hear about the bad things going on on the street,” she said.