Perception of Columbia is that of an unsafe city

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | 12:24 p.m. CDT

Three shootings and one armed robbery with a handgun through Monday are not putting Columbia in a good light.

Then there is the feud that seems to have sparked the recent rash of shootings, but it is also sparking a rift between the Columbia and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and feeding the ongoing quarrel between the city and the Columbia Police Officer’s Association.

Add a misunderstanding of “community policing” and Columbia has one heck of a mess.

Let’s start with some basics. I have said this before, but maybe this time it will sink in.

The perception that Columbia is a safe community has gone out the window. Here is what I heard at a local watering hole over the weekend.

“The Youth Anti-Violence Task Force is a joke.” If someone is old enough to use a gun, to shot at another human in anger, then that person is no longer a “youth.” They have taken an adult responsibility and the city is not addressing the true cause. With the lack of jobs that pay a living wage, with a poor public transportation system, with little for the kids to do outside or organized sports, trouble is waiting to happen.

“The shootings are caused by a family or gang feud, not by bored kids.” A shots fired incident on March 2, 2012, in south Columbia came just weeks after Chief Ken Burton’s first attempt at proactive patrols started. That was followed on March 4, 2012, with the shooting near the St. Paul AME Church on Park Avenue killing Lamont Sargent, 39. Arrested was 18-year old Larrell Banks. Neither were “youths.”

Between Jan. 24 and Feb. 18, 2012, there were 11 shooting incidents in Columbia. The people I sat with believed that the numbers are too high for a city of 120,000. There were 55 gun-related incidents reported in 2012, which is more than one a week. That is a reality.

“What we are seeing today is a direct result of that Park Avenue shooting — and if not directly then indirectly.” It does not matter if this is right or wrong, it is the perception. Along with this comment came the belief that because the “families” are spread out, nowhere is safe in Columbia, as we now know from Friday’s shooting in an otherwise quiet neighborhood.  

“The Chief and Sheriff are at war and that is not helping.” This is the brewin’ feud. It is Sheriff Dwayne Carey and his posse against the City of Columbia, not the police department rank and file. While City Manager Mike Matthes declares a safe city, Sheriff Dwayne Carey claims that is not right, and right now I will side with Carey.

If one is to look at the crime statistics for 2012 on the Columbia Police Department’s website, one will be transferred to the RAID Online page of Bair Analytics and you will note something very interesting. There are 55 shots fired incidents reported in 2012. There were also three homicides.

No, this is not as bad as Kansas City or St. Louis, but for a small city of 120,000, that is too many incidents involving firearms.

Bair Analytics is a software company that specializes in helping “law enforcement with the community to reduce crime and improve public safety… [while] mapping helps the public get a better idea of the crime activity in their area so they can make more informed decisions about how to stay safe.” But put in the wrong analytics and you get bad data out.

A check of 2013 shows a much more violent picture. There have been another 25 shots fired incidents and four homicides though June. The fifth homicide happened on July 14. At this rate, there will be more than 55 shots fired reports and 10 murders by the end of 2013. This last week had its own violent temper and the summer is not over yet.

Unfortunately, gun-related incidents have become so normal that last Sunday’s Tribune had the two latest gun-related incidents in the “News Briefs” section and both received a mere mention on Monday’s KOMU news.

I like Columbia, but am not feeling as safe as I once did. I am double-checking my door locks and am reconsidering traveling in the evenings.

It is no longer a perception; the gun violence is real. It is time that Mayor McDavid, City Manager Matthes, Chief Burton and others step up and do something more than form another committee.

Truth be told, the perception is now the reality.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.

Questions? Contact Opinion editor Laura Johnston.

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About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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