Violent crime in Columbia and Jefferson City is on the rise.
According to the FBI, violent crime is defined as “a crime that involves force or threat of force.” Law enforcement agencies categorize violent crime as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
In Columbia, violent crime is up 53 from 2014.
“Currently we have seen an increase in our aggravated assaults and our rapes. Homicides are actually lower,” said Bryana Larimer, Columbia Police Department spokesperson.
As of September 2015, the number of aggravated assaults in the city are up 20 percent compared to last year’s total, according to the department’s Uniform Crime Report.
Larmier said this increase is most likely from more shootings toward houses this year.
“We break down those aggravated assaults based on the number of victims in an incident, not the number of incidents themselves,” she said. “Say there’s a home that has 8 people inside, that’s going to be 8 counts of aggravated assault as well.”
Those same crimes in Jefferson City are estimated to be up by 47 percent by the end of the year. Captain Doug Shoemaker with the Jefferson City Police Department said these crimes are difficult to prevent.
“Most crimes, particularly violent crimes are very random in nature,” he said. “In other words they can’t be prevented by police because they are particularly crimes of passion.”
Shoemaker gives the summer afternoon shooting at Hy-Vee as an example. On July 27, a 22-year-old woman was shot in broad daylight in the grocery store parking lot on Truman Boulevard.
“Nobody clearly saw that coming,” Shoemaker said. “So those can take place anywhere. It’s our job though to be prepared to deal with that after the fact.”
According to the police department’s latest Uniform Crime Report numbers from January through June 2015, violent crime is estimated to be up in all categories.
A Columbia pastor said the violence is out of control.
“There’s something almost every week something going on,” said Pastor Melvin Stapleton. “I’m just very concerned and I feel that I have a responsibility, even if my church wasn’t here, to do something in the community and the city with all of this going on.”
Stapleton’s church, Restoration of Life Ministries, sits on the corner of Forest and Grand Avenue in central Columbia where four people have been shot this year.
He’s lived in Columbia all his life and said this is the most crime he has ever seen.
“For some reason there seems to be a pattern of violence going on in this neighborhood and the park across the street,” Stapleton said. “It gives the whole neighborhood a bad stigma that we don’t deserve, because this a very peaceful neighborhood most of the time with the exception of the violence that does take place on occasion.”
Several other neighborhoods throughout Columbia have also been scenes of violent crime. The Bodie Drive area in north Columbia has had at least six shootings so far this year.
“Every time that there’s one of these high profile incidents, people make note of where it occurred,” said Michael Trapp, 2nd Ward City Council Member. “From talking with realtors, I have been told that just being north of I-70 takes $10,000 off your property value.”
Trapp said he’s been working with residents in the neighborhood to try to combat the crime. He’s started by working with the homeowners association to clean up the trash on the street. He said residents have also expressed interest in installing speed bumps and surveillance cameras.
“All of us are impacted, wherever we live in Columbia by crime and violence,” he said “It’s all of our responsibility to do everything we can to help those most struggling folks to be more successful.”
“It makes them afraid to come outside,” Stapleton said. “It makes them afraid to go over there to the park and gather as a family or as a community. It just puts fear in the people”
A part of the city’s Strategic Plan involves investing more resources and police officers to three areas of the city where the most crime occurs.
“This is really a realization that we can’t do everything, everywhere at the same time,” said Mike Matthes, Columbia City Manager. “So it’s really born out of an idea of focusing our attention, time, resources on areas that have gone the longest without investment.”
After extensive research, the city has identified the central, north and northeast parts of Columbia to have the highest crime rates. In Jefferson City, a majority of calls for violent crime happen around the east and west side of town. But, officers agree it’s difficult to track where the crime will happen next.
“Just as with crime rates fluctuate, crime hot spot areas fluctuate too,” Larimer said. “There’s no way to know what’s going to happen before it actually happens.”
Despite the need for more uniform officers, both the Columbia and Jefferson City Police Departments have devoted several officers to community policing units.
“There’s not a police agency in the United States that wouldn’t say ‘Sure we’d love to have more officers.'” Capt. Shoemaker said.
Currently, the Jefferson City Police Department has 88 sworn officers. That number has remained steady for the past eight years.
Whereas the Columbia Police Department is about 30 percent understaffed. Right now, the department has 165 officers.
“That definitely plays a role in response times and that plays a role in our officers being overworked,” Larimer said.
Last year with 163 officers, CPD responded to more than 943 calls per officer.
“Unfortunately almost everyday we reach what we call ‘status zero’ meaning there is no one to send to the next call,” Matthes said. “We’re a stretched organization in the amount of calls that come in and the amount of people we can send to provide service”
When compared to police departments in cities of similar sizes, CPD is far behind. The Peoria, Illinois police department has 224 officers. The Springfield, Illinois police department has 241.
For the upcoming budget, Columbia has set aside $100,000 for community policing.
“I really look forward to the community policing effort,” Matthes said. “I do actually believe that should slow down the world wind, the volume of calls should go down in places that have good neighborhood policing programs.”
“We’re never going to say we just give up,” Capt. Shoemaker said. “We’re not going to try to open these dialogues anymore. I think that would be the worst thing we could do.”
Click here for an interactive crime data map.