Columbia Police Unit Patrols After-Bar Streets
COLUMBIA - Since May 2009, the Columbia Police Department's downtown unit has been working to keep downtown safe. The unit patrols every week, Thursdays through Saturdays, from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m.. Since the unit has begun its patrols, the number of liquor law violations has gone from seven per month to just one.
Police Chief Ken Burton said, "There has been a significant decrease in alcohol induced crime in Columbia since I decided to implement the downtown unit." And MU's Wellness Resource Center has also seen numbers lower since the unit started some 18 months ago. According to its records, underage drinking in Columbia bars has decreased by 58 percent. However, Kim Dude, director of the center, said there are still aspects of downtown to improve. Dude said, "Drink specials in town are alarming. They do nothing but encourage people to overuse, whether they are under 21 or over 21. When you can get a quarter draw or penny pitcher, it becomes dangerous."
Sergeant Chris Kelley has been in charge of the unit since it started. He said "You have to remember, prior to downtown unit, we had two beat officers accountable for East Campus, Benton-Stephens area, Greektown, and downtown. So the things that my guys are coming across since the downtown unit's existence was probably there before, but with only two officers to cover that large area, police reports and arrests were not being made. We now have a evident presence."
Sergeant Kelley said he feels almost like a local celebrity when he walks the streets of downtown. "People will high-five us and ask to take their picture with us" said Kelley. For the most part, Columbia residents are happy to have the unit in place. "It makes things safer for us, and more enjoyable," said one Columbia resident.
Kelley said, "Although we might be local celebrities, we still have a job to do and we take that job very seriously." At the same time, Dude urges people to remember keeping downtown safe is a community effort. "Businesses need to be part of the solution too, and so we can't just blame students. We need to all be part of the solution."
According to Chief Burton, the downtown unit will remain at six officers for the time being. Burton said he might expand the unit in the future when funding allows.
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