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Columbia police chief discusses recent homicide, role of drugs

Columbia police chief Ken Burton said drugs and gangs have played a role in nearly every homicide in 2017. Sometimes, both of them play a part.

Columbia police confirmed on Wednesday that the city’s most recent homicide, the killing of Augustus Roberts on Monday, was “drug related.” Officers believe the suspects had targeted the home in the 1900 block of Lasso Circle, a police department news release said, and broke into the house early in the morning.

Burton answered questions on a variety of topics on Wednesday night, including the Lasso Circle homicide.

“These are not random where somebody’s got to worry about someone kicking down their door,” Burton said. “They’re involved in illegal activity and that’s why the other people are coming in and kicking their door down,” Burton said.

Homicide investigations often take detectives and other sworn officers away from their previous duties to help. ABC 17 News highlighted CPD’s lack of detectives when compared to other departments in cities of a similar size. Burton likened the strain to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

“When we have a homicide like that, that takes people who do dual roles,” Burton said. “He’s in crime scene and he’s also a detective. We got to pick our poison, which one we want him doing?”

Columbia mayor Brian Treece said the proliferation of guns and the growing opioid epidemic have contributed to the city’s rise in homicides this year.

“That’s why we need to do everything we can to address this issue head on,” Treece said. “And that means everybody working hard every minute of every day on crime reduction and crime prevention strategies.”

Police have only linked drugs to one homicide of 2017. Jamale Marteen is accused of arraging a drug deal on McKee Street with Jeremy Humphrey before Humphrey shot Nathan Taylor in September, according to court documents.

Drugs have also played a role in some gun crimes this year. Police arrested 18-year-old Johnny Hurd, Jr. in August for shooting a 15-year-old over a marijuana deal.

Burton said a lack of help from witnesses to these crimes make it harder to arrest those responsible. Their reasons are many, Burton said, including fear they will be the victim of a crime in turn, or be arrested themselves.

“A lot of times, particularly when we’re talking about the homicides and the dope business, they may be involved themselves in the same business,” Burton said. “So they’re hesitant to talk to police about something because they know that’s going to get turned right around if they do.”

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