As is the case throughout the nation, Columbia has enjoyed the good as well as experiencing the not-so-good during 2007. The most alarming example of the latter is the recent increase in violent crime, much of which has been committed either by armed criminals or with the implied threat of weapon possession.
Since returning to Columbia in 1992, I, along with every other resident who reads the papers, watches the local news or otherwise heeds current events, have seen an increase in criminal activity. This surge in unlawful behavior has been characterized by drive-by shootings, strong-arm and armed robberies and, most recently, a spate of home invasions.
As any city grows, it is inevitable that increased crime accompany the expansion, as the commonly agreed upon ratio of 5 percent bad apples in any population will rise proportionately. Additionally, located halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, Columbia attracts a transient criminal element.
However, along with this rise in violent felonious acts, there are at least two harbingers of progress. The first of these is the marked silence of the anti-gun left, which usually calls for the banning of firearms as the panacea of ending crime as we know it. Perhaps a bit of logic is now embedded in the faculties of these well-meaning but naive individuals and organizations in the reality that criminals will ignore gun bans with the same antipathy they show other laws.
The most heartening aspect in dealing with this violence has been the success of Columbia’s finest in rapidly seeking out and apprehending the culprits. Our city Police Department’s record in solving crimes is well above the national average — the examples of the past month or two have been phenomenal. This achievement is the product of professional police work, coupled with the cooperation of a public that is sick and tired of drugs, violence and the thugs who perpetrate crimes.
I refuse to buy into the theory espoused by some that the police or the city are down playing the incidence of increased crime. Drive-by shootings, hijackings, home invasions and murder are not easily shrugged off or hidden. From my vantage point, law enforcement is doing the job it is paid to do, that of advising the citizens of personal safety measures to take while the police combat crime. Merely by exercising a modicum of common sense and judgment, we can be more secure in our persons while freeing the police to preserve and protect.
Nevertheless, there is one facet of this equation which is not only troubling, but also the simplest to put to rest — that of repeat armed offenders. The National Rifle Association has long advocated adoption of “Project Exile” to remove armed criminals from society. This program mandates a five-year prison sentence for a felon in possession of a firearm and a 15-year prison sentence for a felon in possession of a firearm while committing a crime — both sentences without possibility of probation or parole.
Need I point out that the present most-wanted fugitive here is a felon wanted for armed criminal action who has been convicted of other armed felonies within the past two years? Or that most of those arrested for armed criminal action are repeat offenders also? Does anyone not see the value of a Project Exile in removing these thugs from our streets?
Each of us can help reduce the incidence of violent crime by vigilance, reporting suspicious activities, locking and lighting our homes, exercising caution after dark and other prudent approaches to personal safety. We can also exercise our First Amendment right to petition our legislators — local, state and national — for mandatory sentences for those who are in possession of a firearm while committing a crime.
And, to our mayor and City Council, it should be obvious that the public at large supports its Police Department in that citizens are providing information leading to the apprehension of these criminals. While the notion of a civilian review board may be well-intentioned, it is an unnecessary encumbrance.
The problem, my friend, is not the police — but rather the criminal.
Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.