The city’s 2014 budget, signed by City Manager Mike Matthes on Friday, draws special attention to an intensified fear of crime throughout the community.
In a citizen survey released earlier this year, 61 percent of respondents said they have an overall feeling of safety. That number is down from 64 percent in 2011 and 67 percent in 2005.
The drop is not reflective of the overall crime rate in the city. Columbia is safer now than it was 20 years ago, according to crime rates outlined in the budget.
In response to a growing population, public outcry over shots fired incidents and the murder of four youths, and a mission for enhancing safety, the new budget will add funding for two police officers and one sergeant to work in neighborhoods with the highest call volumes, according to the budget report documents.
The total estimated spending racks in at $417.3 million and total expected revenues are $389.9 million.
The city denied the Columbia Police Department part of its original request.
“Each year, (the) challenge is to create a budget in the midst of a whirlwind of competing issues, including some that have consequences for all of our operations,” Matthes said in the report.
Following a staffing study designed to measure the number of officers needed to have one-third of their time available for proactive policing or community policing efforts, the department had requested an additional 19-30 patrol officers. It asked for five officers per year for the next five years to obtain this goal.
It also asked for a total of 12 sworn positions and nine civilian positions, but this was not plausible due to budget constraints, according to the adopted budget. The department will receive three sworn positions and no civilian.
Sworn police officers have full powers granted by a state or local government to arrest, while non-sworn civilian officers do not.
The Fleet Optimization Committee has approved replacements for 12 of the department’s vehicles as well, but the budget only allows for 10.
Columbia Public Schools, which requested additional school resource officers, will not see a change, as the police department cannot remove existing officers from the streets due to staffing and hiring concerns.
The department now has 194 full-time and part-time employees.
The budget will also fund a mediation program under the Citizens Police Review Board.
The board was created in 2009 to provide an independent review process of perceived police misconduct. Its goal is to increase accountability and trust in the police, according to its mission statement.
It will also receive a substantial increase in budget. In 2013, the estimated budget was $9,500. The newly adopted 2014 budget calls for $22,500. This change marks the largest percent increase within City Council’s boards and commissions at 136.8 percent.
Guided by City Council, “This program will assist the complaintant and provide them with a mediator designed to achieve a mutually satisfying and workable resolution for their dispute.”