Questions linger about trail safety

Recent assaults on the MKT Trail are causing some to question safety measures.
Runners and bikers use the MKT Trail on Sept. 1, 2015, in Columbia, Mo. Recent assaults on Columbia’s nature trails have raised concerns about the safety of trails.

Two recent assaults on Columbia trails raised concerns about the safety of residents and students on nearby outdoor facilities.

On July 5, a female victim reported a sexual indecency incident on Hinkson Trail to the Columbia Police Department. The suspect repeatedly passed the victim, groping her before riding ahead, according to a CPD news release. As the victim passed Hinkson Field, she reported seeing the suspect masturbating. Similarly, on Aug. 14, a female victim reported jogging on the MKT Trail when a Hispanic male riding a bicycle “grabbed her butt” while riding past, according to a CPD news release.

The CPD news release detailed an Aug. 14 incident from Forum Nature Area and the 3M Wetlands Area 15 minutes after the initial incident. Another female victim reported seeing a male ride past her on a bicycle before he stopped, dropped his pants and exposed himself. According to CPD statements, the suspect has yet to be apprehended.

When asked about the frequency of sexual indecency and assault incidences on the trails, CPD Public Information Officer Latisha Stroer emphasized the rarity of such events. She said the July incident was an abnormality and that Columbia trails are safe.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation 2013 Uniform Crime Report, Columbia’s assault rate of 202 per 100,000 residents is below the Missouri average of 299 per 100,000 residents and the U.S. average of 229 per 100,000 residents; furthermore, Columbia’s violent crime rate of 363 per 100,000 residents is below the Missouri average of 433 and the US average of 368.

Although independent statistical reporting for crime along the MKT Trail is not readily available, a search of Columbia Police Department news releases during the period covering 2014 and 2015 shows only two incidents involving possible criminal activity along the MKT Trail.

Stroer said CPD believes the three attacks over the summer were not emblematic of a disturbing trend, but rather the work of one individual.

“He even rode the same bike,” Stroer said, highlighting the high likelihood of all three prior mentioned events being the acts of a lone perpetrator.

For freshman Jacob Eck, the assaults aren’t enough to alter his view of the trails — however, the frequency of the incidents concerned him.

“(CPD) should really increase surveillance or security around the trails … just to stop that sort of stuff from happening,” Eck said.

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