Columbia police officers are increasing their presence in Douglass Park after crimes in the area have led to perceptions that the park is unsafe.
In May, Columbia Police Department Capt. Brad Nelson placed two officers on foot patrol around Douglass Park.
“We have assigned two officers to have daily interaction with the people and show a presence," Nelson said. "The purpose is not to arrest everybody. You can’t arrest your way out of a problem.”
Nelson said the unofficially titled Douglass Park Special Assignment has received positive feedback so far.
“I have heard a lot of positive comments about it," Nelson said.
Columbia resident Curtis "Boogie Man” Soul said the creation of the foot patrol was a great decision, and he is impressed with the department's action.
"This is something that was needed a long time ago," Soul said.
As the police help to clean up the image of Douglass Park, the biggest concern to the community might be the negative media attention the park has received.
On June 28, a shooting on North Providence Road left four teenagers wounded. The shooting followed a fight that broke out in front of the Blind Boone Center. According to police, the shooting took place in front of Frederick Douglass High School. However, coverage of the shooting referred to the location as the "Douglass Park Area."
"The shooting happened directly in front of the school — sure you can see Douglass Park from there," Nelson said. "Anything that happens within a two-block radius of Douglass Park, the media tends to say Douglass Park area.”
Former First Ward City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton said she agreed that the media portrays Douglass Park as crime-riddled.
"The park closes at 11:30 p.m.," Crayton said. "The shooting happened at the school. Douglass Park is a safe place. Nobody is going to mess with you, and (the media) stereotypes the whole area.”
A frequent visitor of Douglass Park, Soul describes the park as home.
“I visit there every Saturday," he said. "It is not a dangerous park.”
Soul said the disconnect between the media and Douglass Park visitors has contributed to the poor reputation of the park.
“It goes back to not being there," Soul said. "Most of the people that do the writing and most of the people talking and taking pictures have never spent a day in Douglass Park. It is no more dangerous than Stephens Lake Park."
Nelson, a police officer for 27 years, said the effects of this negative reputation can linger for long after conditions have improved.
“That perception can be carried for 20 years," he said. "You might not have anything in 19 years and that perception can still linger.”