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Columbia to spend $100,000 for community policing efforts

Lorenzo Lawson calls himself “old school.” He remembers a time when people in his neighborhood knew the name of the police officers who patrolled the area, and the officers knew theirs. He said that relationship changed the way police officers handled potential problems.

“If they see a young man out there, doing something, they knew their mother, their grandmother, and they could go and talk to them, and try to do some alternative things before locking them up,” Lawson told ABC 17 News Tuesday.

The head of the nonprofit Youth Empowerment Zone, and former member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence, Lawson supports the Columbia’s efforts for a community policing model. The idea gained traction and attention after tensions between law enforcement and St. Louis communities arose through a violent year.The Governor-appointed Ferguson Commission recommended police departments adopt the model, and practice new ways of interacting with diverse neighborhoods to rebuild trust between the people and police.

On Monday, the Columbia City Council voted to spend $100,000 from its reserves in 2014 for community policing efforts. City Manager MIke Matthes said the city has done research into the topic, but did not have any specifics as to how the money would be spent on the model of policing.

Lawson said he most recently saw the Columbia Police Department practicing it at the Silence the Violence rally in Douglass Park last month, mingling with the crowd and praying with them.

“‘We’re gonna be here, and we’re gonna speak to you. We’re people,'” Lawson said of the police’s attitude there. “And that type of thing, it has been shown that it makes a difference with bringing crime down in the community.”

When the Task Force on Community Violence made its recommendations to the city council in November 2014, it explicitly suggested CPD take on a community policing model. It acknowledged a shortage in police officers would hamper the ability for patrol officers to spend their whole shift in one neighborhood. The report said the “cultural competency” portion of the model could be implemented right away, to help build a trusting relationship with minority communities in Columbia.

“We think if the police officer get to know the community that they’re patrolling, and the people get to know them, then these types of [violent crimes] won’t happen,” Lawson said.

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