City Council and CPD divided over crime prevention, statistics

Police chief suggested a curfew, but only the mayor also supported it.

In response to recent shootings, city council members and Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton presented solutions for decreasing crime among teens at a press conference Wednesday.

However, there was no consensus on a plan to prevent crime.

Chief Burton said he watched a video of a recent shooting, which shows 14 and 15-year-olds moving toward a fight. He said they could have easily been the ones shot and suggested implementing a curfew for people under 17-years-old.

“There is no reason why a child under 17 should be downtown after 1 a.m.,” Burton said.

Sergeant Joe Berhard said his interactions with teens were mostly at night when the teens were “just hanging out.”

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe disagreed with Burton’s curfew for the same reason.

“Most of 17 year olds and under are not a problem,” Hoppe said.

There were also differing opinions on what the crime rate in Columbia is.

“Although crime in Columbia has gone down in recent years, there has been a rash of shootings in the past few weeks,” Hoppe said. “It appears to be both drug and gang related.”

Bernhard believes the crime rate was the same, but the number of crimes per officer was increasing.

“I don’t think the police department has kept up,” Bernhard said. “Columbia has grown 30,000 people. Well, the police department has gone from about 140 officers to 160.”

Mayor Bob McDavid asked for funding for more police officers. He also pointed out that Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala suggested staffing the police department to allow patrols every day.

Hiring a new police officer would cost two million dollars. A “user-based” fee, based on development fees for roads, could help pay for this without raising taxes, Skala said.

“Now may be the time to shift the model,” Skala said. “People are taxed out.”

He said that residential areas where the only difference is crime would have to pay more. He said a model could be developed using police data, but there would not necessarily have to be a different model.

“Robust growth has been a cost to public safety in my opinion,” Skala said.

The meeting ignored the biggest problems for downtown — panhandling, soft closings of bars and traffic — Bernhard said.

Panhandling has been decreasing, but the number one problem is downtown traffic, especially because of the construction, Bernhard said.

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