Nancy Gause is in the market for a new home. One of the primary factors in her search is crime, but she’s deliberately avoiding certain neighborhoods because of their reputations for being unsafe.
Because crime varies so much from one Columbia neighborhood to another, it’s difficult to get a good indication of how the average resident thinks the city is doing in terms of ensuring public safety. In some neighborhoods, crime seems a non-issue. In others, however, it’s a fact of daily life.
In spite of those differences, however, a consensus emerged on one strategy for reducing crime: encouraging communication among neighbors.
“I think the real problem with crime occurs when different neighborhoods are not diverse, and they don’t communicate, and they don’t have a willingness to interact with each other and make sure we’re just kind of watching out for each other,” said Peter Anger, president of the Parkade Neighborhood Association on Columbia’s north side.
Anger thinks good communication and diversity will help keep Parkade immune from crime as the city grows.
“Most of us are homeowners, and we want to protect our investment,” Anger said. “I can’t imagine living in any safer home on planet Earth than the home I live in.”
Linda Rootes, president of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, agrees communication is key. She tries to promote the idea that neighbors need to look out for one another.
“Don’t shut your house up so that it looks like you can’t look out,” Rootes said. “It’s safer when people walking up and down your street think that someone might be watching them.”
Gause agrees that it’s important to foster positive interactions among residents of neighborhoods where people are “a little nervous about” crime rates.
“I think that if we could infuse people and activities into neighborhoods with a high crime rate and kind of brighten the light on those areas, my hope is we could make those neighborhoods safer,” Gause said.
Ann Morris, a resident of Windsor Street, thinks it is important to provide good job opportunities for young people and the underprivileged so they can take pride in their community. That, she said, should cause crime to decline.
“People need to have a sense of hope and a sense of optimism,” Morris said. “It’s about really caring about people and creating opportunities for people more focused on beauty and kindness.”
Chris Brewer said another key is for parents to keep a closer eye on their children and to keep them out of trouble.
“I don’t want curfews, but I want responsibility,” Brewer said.
Brewer said it’s also important to ensure there are consequences when youth break the law. He said he particularly likes the idea of requiring community service, a strategy that could foster the kind of pride that Morris hopes for.
“I don’t care what age, you have to learn it’s not a free ride,” Brewer said. “In 20 years, I want the system redone so there is always a consequence.”
Leonard Smith thinks having more safe environments where youth can hang out would deter crime. He’d like to see smaller community centers scattered around Columbia, especially north of the central city.
“The city’s getting so spread out,” Smith said. “Basically, the youth have no place to go.”
He’ll get no argument from a handful of Rock Bridge High School students who addressed the issue. Sara Erbschloe, 18, said the city is lacking in good, clean fun for high school students. As a result, many kids wind up partying with drugs and alcohol.
Erbschloe had some creative ideas for helping businesses attract Columbia youth. Instead of happy hours with alcohol, she suggested reduced prices for appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages. Another idea was showing late-night movies on the sides of large buildings during the summer, or opening some new dance clubs. She said that shops should consider staying open later.
Daniel Everhart, 18, said the new mall rule preventing younger teens from hanging out on Friday and Saturday evenings is a joke. He, too, would like to see night clubs for people younger than 21.
Marissa Hogan, 17, agrees, saying Columbia is unfriendly for teenagers seeking alternatives to drugs and alcohol. She said the city could model new clubs after those in Chicago and St. Louis that cater to high school students.
— Missourian reporter Luke Thompson contributed to this report.