Columbia police officers responded to reports of trouble at the Columbia Mall Thursday night, the third incident in that area in less than a week.
A sergeant told ABC 17 News they got word about a fight between two groups of juveniles outside the food court, but the juveniles were gone by the time police arrived. There were no reported injuries and no apparent property damage.
“These kinds of things are devilishly difficult to deal with, they’re intractable problems, and frankly, there also one of the aspects of growth of our community,” said Karl Skala, council member for Ward 3.
Several parents have spoke out this week, worried about safety at the Columbia Mall. Concerns grew this week when cellphone video posted on Facebook showed a fight that broke out in the food court on Saturday.
One concerned parent wrote, “It’s disheartening that we don’t fell safe taking our children to our own mall.”
Then on Wednesday, shots were fired near the south side of the mall. A group of people eating at Sub Shop on Worley Street reported the gunfire, and said they saw a light-colored car drive away.
Local leaders said curbing crime like this is made more difficult because of limited resources.
“We have 160 officers. We are stretched to the limit when it comes to officers. We all know that we need more officers. We have to find a way to get more officers,” said Skala.
Residents voted down a 2014 ballot issue that would have raised property taxes to pay for more officers.
To help curb crime in Columbia, the city ended its traffic unit, moving those officers to a pilot community policing program. Currently, there are community police in three Columbia neighborhoods.
“It relies on officers getting to know people in neighborhoods, particularly in poor neighborhoods and crime neighborhoods, particularly poorer neighborhoods and crime neighborhoods – getting to know the law-abiding citizens there, building relationships and deterring crime in that way,” said Ian Thomas, council member for Ward 4.
Management at the mall has so far declined to comment on the recent disturbances.