Hours before another homicide, Mayor Brian Treece and Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones expressed differing views of the state of community policing at a press conference Wednesday afternoon in the wake of recent deaths by gun violence. Staffing shortages within the police department were also a major point of discussion.
Just after 8 p.m. Wednesday, Columbia Police responded to a report of shots fired near McBaine Avenue and Duncan Street. James D. Hickem, 23, was pronounced dead later at a local hospital.
Treece said community policing has been expanded citywide, in accordance with the Mayor’s task force’s strategic plan for addressing violence in the city.
Jones contradicted this, saying that the department was short 10 to 11 officers.
“We’ve all been working to come up with a staffing plan that will fit what people’s idea of what community policing is, but until we have enough officers, that will not be citywide,” Jones said.
Later Wednesday, at an annual Neighborhood Watch Association meeting, Jones discussed the staffing shortage again.
“Anybody want to guess how many cops we started with this morning?” Jones asked a crowd of about 20 people at the meeting. “We started out with five police officers this morning. As we have more that come on, we have more that get off of work, so at the height of the day we may have 15 police officers.”
Jones also said that detectives have worked hundreds of hours of overtime in the wake of recent shootings.
“We’ve squeezed all that we can out of these guys,” Jones said. “If we’re going to improve, we’ve got to have more.”
Jones said his officers “have been stretched as far as any police department can be stretched” in the past month.
Treece agreed that the department was short-staffed. Treece commended the officers’ work and dedication but pointed out that being stretched this thin was “not sustainable long term.”
Columbia changed its approach to community policing at the beginning of this year. The Community Outreach Unit is no longer supervised by the patrol division but has been reassigned to the special services unit. Assistant Chief Brian Richenberger said the unit is understaffed and has several officers on extended leave but tries to cover the neighborhoods it always has.
Jones said CPD attempts to foster trust in the police by putting officers in schools, in strategic neighborhoods and by including customer service as part of their daily work.
Jones also asked for community assistance finding two suspects in the recent killings of Antonio Houston and Danielle Marine, who were shot and killed Sunday morning.
“If you know something, please say something,” he said.
Jones added that an arrest warrant has been issued for a suspect in the killing of Nadria Wright: a 30-year-old man named Javion Lawhorn-Wallace. Police have also issued a warrant for Aaron Harris, 26, who is a suspect in the death of E’quan Spain.
Supervising editor is Claire Colby.