COLUMBIA — City officials have two strategies for beefing up police patrols to combat a surge in violent crime, but both have their detractors.
One idea is to funnel $100,000 in new cable franchise fee revenue to the Police Department so it can expedite the hiring of two new police officers. The City Council on Monday night advanced an ordinance to that effect that will be up for final approval on Jan. 5. Those officers were already included in the budget for fiscal 2008, but the hirings were to be delayed at least 60 days to help the city save money in a tight budget year.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, however, thinks using the cable fee money is a bad idea. He said the council should instead pull money from development fees, which he considers to be infrastructure funding. Another $15,000 to $20,000 could be drawn from the council’s discretionary funds.
“The funds should be given to the original place of assessment,” said Skala, “which are the public access channel and the government channel.”
The $100,000 is part of an anticipated $250,000 to $300,000 increase in revenue the city expects from cable franchise fees. The council in September decided to boost the franchise fee from 3 percent to 5 percent, in part because of pressure from the volunteers who run CAT-TV.
Mayor Darwin Hindman said during Tuesday night’s community action meeting that he thinks the council will advance the ordinance during its next meeting.
The second proposal is to pull police resource officers from Columbia’s three middle schools and put them on street patrols.
Resource officers serve as liaisons between the police and the public schools for security, counseling and education about preventing alcohol and drug abuse. Police Chief Randy Boehm said that the relocation of the middle school resource officers would be temporary and that their positions would be filled on a part-time basis by the five resource officers assigned to other schools.
School administrators and staff, however, would prefer that the resource officers remain in the schools to which they are assigned.
“A police car outside sends the message that our schools are safe,” said Michelle Baumstark, communications coordinator for Columbia Public Schools. “They are extremely valuable to the students, staff, parents and visitors to our buildings.”
Baumstark said that there are no plans to hire additional staff to assist part-time rotating officers, but that they might make adjustments within the schools themselves to compensate for removed officers.
Smithton Middle School Principal Craig Martin said he feels comfortable that supplemental resources will be available if resource officers are removed.
“We have teachers that would teach that curriculum, as we used to do before resource officers,” he said of the drug- and alcohol-prevention sessions. Still, he’d like to keep the officer assigned to Smithton.
Boehm said the relocation of the officers would address mounting concern among citizens that there are too few police patrolling Columbia.
“This will ensure that any staffing issues we have will not affect the number of officers we have out in a beat,” Boehm said.