This week we take a quick look back to explain how crime quickly rose to become the number one story in Columbia:
Summer in Columbia is a strange thing. The city's a lot smaller because all the students are temporarily away. And with so many residents in the teaching professions, a lot of the adults are gone too. We imagine a lot of people having been coming back to Columbia in recent weeks and wondering:
What is this crime wave everyone keeps mentioning?
All summer long, it seemed like Columbia's "Crime Problem" was a constant refrain. In this week's episode of CoMo Explained, we look back at the high profile shootings that form the "crime wave" which sucked up so much media attention. We'll also told you how the city responded (and in some cases, refused to respond) to the issue, and what actually got done.
Part of what drives the conversation about this around town is the question of "IS there a crime problem?"
The CoMo Explaiend team knows that the numbers are tricky and that crime is complex. There are some smart people who argue that our sense of Crime in Columbia is overblown and that we're on track for what will end up being a pretty average year. And there are some smart people who point to evidence of real gang activity and some very public expamples of youth violence. Whether Columbia does or does not "have a crime problem" is a conversation, not a question that we're able to answer. But we can explain how we got where we are.
Summer is historically the time when the most violent crimes happen in Columbia. This year, summer started early with a couple of high profile murder cases in the spring. In April, Brian Daniels was murdered in his home in Columbia. As details came out, police arrested a suspect who claimed to be in a relationship with the victim. Fraud seemed to be the motive.
Then, in May, a man was shot and killed on the street in Benton Stephens. Brandon Coleman was in some kind of argument with a person police have not named. He claimed Coleman was holding him at gunpoint when the unnamed person's son approached with a 12 guage shotgun and fired four times, according to witnesses.
These murders set the tone for the summer but when people talk about the "crime problem" in Columbia they're mostly referring to gang and youth violence. The murders of Coleman and Daniels were clearly not part of that phenomenon, though they might have contributed to the public perception.
June 15th was a turning point. Three people were injured in a very public shooting in downtown Columbia. video of the incident quickly went viral:
Later that month was the murder of Anthony Unger in a drug deal gone bad at the Conley Rd. Hyvee parking lot.
Finally, in July, was the particularly sad case of Traveon Marshall, shot to death in McKee park in Northeast Columbia. He was 17 years old. Three suspects were arrested, also youths. The killing may have have been revenge for a similar murder in 2012.
Altogether, these five events coalesced into what some were calling a "crime wave." Police Chief Ken Burton was dismissive at first, referring often to a "perception problem" caused by the media. After the shootings downtown and in McKee park, Burton's attitude drew a widespread criticism. The City eventually changed its tune when McDavid called for the creation of a task force and a new property tax to pay for 35 new police officers.
Things got strange from here. The Columbia Police Officers' Association, while generally in support of new hires, criticized the tax increase and argued that there was existing money in the budget to pay for the expansion. Later that night, McDavid abruptly reversed his opinion and decided not to push for a a new tax.
We are now in something of a limbo state. The city still wants and supports an expansion of the police, which is already a little small for a city this size. But the city manager disagrees with the notion that we can pay for 35 new officers with the existing budget.
Meanwhile, the mayor's task force on community violence is formed and has begun to meet. After much deliberation, they will develop strategies and will bring recommendations to the city, but we'll have to wait till November 14th, 2014.