Columbia crime takes center stage at Aspen Heights forum

Community members, other housing complexes and police officers also attended the meeting.

Representatives from Aspen Heights, other student housing complexes, MU, law enforcement and the community convened Tuesday to discuss what Aspen Heights President Greg Vestri called Columbia’s “pervasive situation of escalated crime.”

The forum was modeled after one Aspen Heights San Antonio held after that complex experienced its own problems with crime.

Despite a few high-profile incidents early in the year, Columbia Police Department spokesman Joe Bernhard said crime at Aspen Heights has been less of an issue in recent months.

“There was kind of a party atmosphere when it first opened, and there were a lot of people from outside the complex that were getting in for one reason or another,” Bernhard said. “That’s where a lot of the crime issue was.”

Property crime, which includes theft and burglary, remains Aspen’s most common crime. Apart from one armed robbery, the rest of the incidents were cases of burglars gaining entry through unlocked doors.

Aspen Heights representatives and police considered several ideas for educating residents on how to run a household. For spring break security, the group discussed asking residents to take valuables home with them, offering spring break security education or having police check doors and windows when residents leave.

Joel Alvarez, general manager at nearby housing complex The Grove, said his complex has been successful at controlling crime and educates its residents on the importance of keeping their doors locked and valuables out of their cars.

“We do find that our residents don’t take these issues as really serious things that could actually happen in the community,” Alvarez said.

At the suggestion of MU’s Off-Campus Student Housing Coordinator Dionne George, the group touched on the intersection between drugs, alcohol and crime.

Vestri said the San Antonio Aspen Heights property ended up adopting a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and drug paraphernalia, evicting any tenant found with those items. Although he said the policy was not popular with everyone, it did cut down on crime.

“We know that specifically has made a big difference,” Vestri said. “I know for us, that’s something we have to think about for here.”

Aspen Heights Chief Operating Officer Russ Murphy said the complex hopes to bring drug and alcohol education to its residents, as crime often occurs between 2 to 4 a.m., after nights of partying.

“San Antonio was a different circumstance, but it goes with education and balancing when it comes to drug and alcohol use,” Murphy said. “For us to say ‘no drinking’ is probably not going to be that popular.”

George offered up her office’s alcohol educational services to Aspen Heights and other student housing complexes in the area. A representative from The Den, a new luxury student housing complex opening before the 2014-2015 academic year, also attended the forum.

“We have those resources for students, and we’re pushing them out,” George said.

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