COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
In the past 10 years, Columbia has seen three mayors, three city managers and now three police chiefs. Every one of these city leaders attempted to address community violence. Despite their efforts, FBI statistics show a rise in violent crime.
In Missouri, violent crime rose from about 450 per 100,000 people in 2012 to 490 per 100,000 people in 2022, according to the FBI. The worst year, at just over 540 per 100,000 people, for violent crimes was reported in 2020. This data is from at most 13 law enforcement agencies that submitted National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data and covers 12% of the total population.
Looking specifically at data from the Columbia Police Department, there were 1,964 violent crime offenses reported over the past 10 years. The number of reported crimes has fluctuated throughout the years, showing a peak in 2021 at 645 reported incidents.
However, they remain above the levels seen 10 years ago.
2013 Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence
Ten years ago, then-mayor Robert McDavid formed the Task Force on Community Violence after shots were fired downtown on a busy weekend. No one was hit, but the video of the shooting spread quickly, causing people to demand action, said former task force co-chair and former city council member Michael Trapp.
Trapp and fellow former city councilwoman Laura Nauser headed up the task force, which met once a month for about a year before releasing a report.
"We found that victims and perpetrators came out of the same risk pool that it was built around social networks, that there was a broken and lack of trustful relationship between the black community and the police department, that there was a lack of mentoring opportunities," Trapp said.
The report lists four recommendations: coordination and awareness, creating youth facilities and training, building trust between community and police, and holding high-risk offenders accountable.
The recommendations under coordination and awareness are to approach violence as a public health issue, coordinate job training programs and create and update communication tools for available programs. It also suggests the city hosts an annual forum to address crime, social issues, and discrimination in the community. These are meant for the city to allocate and train staff on how to be proactive about violence.
The second recommendation focuses on mentoring young people to make sure they never get involved in violent crime. The report suggests creating a youth community cultural center and family access center, similar to one Boone County runs called FACE of Boone County.
FACE of Boone County was formed a year before the Task Force. According to the website, FACE of Boone County uses county taxes to "fund programs and services targeting social, emotional and behavioral health of Boone County children and youth (0-19 years of age).”
The second recommendation also outlines ideas for a violence interrupters program, increasing the number of available mentors in the community and increasing Columbia Public Schools' ability to identify and help at-risk students.
ABC 17 News asked Columbia Public Schools about any programs or training it provides teachers to help at-risk students, but a district spokesperson did not reply.
The report's third recommendation is to build trust between the community and the police department. One of the recommendations from this section, the community policing model, was implemented after the report but dissolved a few years later.
The third recommendation also outlines ideas for cultural competency training, greater public involvement and accountability of the Police Department’s vision, mission and goals, and appreciation for Columbia police officers.
The fourth recommendation is for a higher level of accountability for the highest-risk offenders. The report recommends creating a city-level reentry program, similar to the Reentry Opportunity Center (The ROC). The ROC is located in Columbia, but a look at its website reveals it's supported by Boone County.
But even in 2013, Trapp was not completely confident in the task force's ability to truly make a difference.
“Task forces in general are a way to kick the can down the road and not really address an issue," Trapp said.
Were the recommendations implemented?
After the report, Trapp said the city didn't do a lot to implement most recommendations.
“I wish that at the 10-year retrospective, we looked back and had several successful programs and that we had found resources in difficult times to address that," Trapp said. "And I take most of the accountability for that because I was on council for far longer than the people who were on council while we had those task force recommendations.”
The second recommendation saw the most action from the city, largely from the Community Policing Program.
Glenn Cobbins Sr. oversaw a lot of the Community Policing Program and tells ABC 17 News that it was going well before it was disbanded. Cobbins said a change in city leadership, specifically the city manager, led to the program's end.
“Naturally when you change players, especially the player that was supporting the outreach efforts, then everything changed. So the community policing just left. It was over,” Cobbins said.
Columbia Police Officers Association President Matt Nichols tells ABC 17 News the community's trust in the police depends on who you ask, but he said police leadership has worked to gain trust.
“Not only [former Chief Geoff] Jones had but other members of the department that are still here and some that are gone, opened the door to creativity, understanding perspectives and having the ability to work together in a meaningful way to combat violent crime and to build that additional trust,” Nichols said.
Now that current Assistant Chief Jill Schlude is taking the helm as Columbia's newest police chief, Nichols said the department and community will have to look at trust through a different lens, but he's overall not concerned.
Office of Crime Prevention
Ten years after the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence, Columbia's current Mayor Barbara Buffaloe proposed an Office of Violence Prevention. This idea was also sparked by an act of violence that highlighted many different cases of community violence.
Buffaloe presented the idea to the city council after a 3-year-old was shot.
Trapp said the mayor's new idea will only be productive if the city provides the right resources, creates an action plan and carries it into the future.
"Absent that, it's a bureaucratic waste of money and there's a hundred better things that they could have done with that that could change the city in the future in 20 and 40 years," Trapp said.
Buffaloe told ABC 17 News that the Office of Violence Prevention was inspired by the unimplemented recommendations from the 2013 task force.
"It's having the city be accountable to delivering the recommendations from that task force. You know, right now it was a plan that just sat on a shelf," Buffaloe said.
Nichols said he's concerned about the city creating an office to deal with crime without the inclusion of the police.
“I think that instead of trying to find some new way to figure out community violence, we go back to what works, and what works is funding and supporting the Columbia Police Department to combat violent crime like we have done for years," Nichols said.
For the office to be implemented, it needs funding from the city. The 2024 budget was already approved last month which means there would have to be an amendment to the budget to fund this office.
It's not yet clear how much the office will cost to operate.