Crime in Your Community: Survey Shows Many "Extremely" Worried
COLUMBIA - In communities across the country, citizens voice concerns about crime, the economy and education. After reading through viewer comments on previous stories and the KOMU 8 News Facebook page, the station's digital team wanted to get a deeper understanding of the audience's community-related concerns. Results are shown in the graphs below.
The poll showed crime is the biggest concern for those in our mid-Missouri viewing area. The majority of respondents said they were very or extremely concerned with crime in their community.
Respondents rank crime as their key concern, followed by the economy, education, public policy and politics.
"Historically, the community has ranked crime or fear of crime or public safety as one of their top concerns," said Sgt.Joe Bernhard, a spokesman for the Columbia Police Department. "That's one one of the top concerns that they want from city government, so that would fall in the police department and other departments in the city."
The KOMU 8 News survey revealed nearly 30 percent of those who responded to the question are "extremely concerned" about crime in the community. Eleven of the 348 respondents said they are not concerned at all.
More than 80 percent of respondents said they were at least somewhat afraid of becoming a victim of a crime.
One respondent, a Columbia woman who identified herself as white and between the ages of 25-34, said she believes crime stems from a gang problem in the city.
"I feel like Columbia has a gang problem. I also think that the city is in complete denial over the issue, but it's too obvious to ignore now," she said.
Bernhard, however, said the department is focusing on specific issues.
"We are working very hard on crime issues and we are trying to use our resources as best we can to focus on the specific issues, you know, of violent crime and things like that. Over the spring and summer we had an increase in gun crime and violent crime so we are focusing our resources on that now whereas before that spike we were probably focusing more on property crimes, burglaries, larcenies, and things like that," Bernhard said.
In line with many respondents answers, Bernhard said drugs and alcohol play a large role with crime in the community.
"I don't have any statistics on that, but drugs and alcohol play a large part usually in all of our violent occurrences. I think it is a societal problem - drug and alcohol abuse - and there is not anything that the police can do. We can focus on it, to have a greater impact, but it takes a, you know, the community attention and focus to do that," Bernhard said.
Some respondents offered ideas of how to clean up crime in the area. One, who identified herself as an American Indian or Alaskan woman between 35 and 44 years old, said parents, schools, the juvenile office and police need to work together to fix the problem.
"Parents needs to take a stand and teach kids right from wrong and bring them up with morals, respect and discipline. The juvenile office also needs to step up and do more to the kids that are out of control. The schools need to be more involved as well with not only having your basic education but classes on learning respect, basic work ethics, self esteem and laws. The police also need to quit being scared of these so called gangs and do their job," she said.
One man, who identified himself as an African American, between 45 and 54 years old and from Columbia, said the community should "let the police be more aggressive in community policing in high-crime areas."
Another male respondent, who identified himself as a Columbia resident between 35 and 44 years old, said a simple solution would be more police.
"Our officers are over worked and tired, and that leads to mistakes. They also have a lot of ground to cover and people to protect. Population has risen, but the police force has stayed the same," he wrote.
KOMU 8 News reported in November that the Columbia Police Department is having a difficult time filling vacancies.
Some viewers have commented on the station's Facebook page saying crime is over-reported. But others said it is not covered enough. The survey asked respondents to take a side in that debate.
According to the results, most felt the media's coverage of crime was about where it should be. Bernhard said the media definitely play a role in how people feel about crime.
"I think that some media outlets are more balanced in their reporting and others are more sensationalistic. And I am not pointing a finger at any one of them, but it does seem there is a very instance of how it is reported," Bernhard said.
The Facebook comments led to the decision to poll viewers about their opinions on crime. A link was posted on the page and on KOMU.com, allowing viewers opportunity to participate. Such a survey is not considered scientific.
Most of the respondents said they come from Columbia, though results showed people from all over mid-Missouri participated. Out of the 347 responses, 259 said they lived in Columbia.
And of the 331 responders who identified with a gender, 187 selected female and 144 male.
The ages of respondents varied, but 45 percent fell within the age range of 25-44 years old. About 17 percent were between the ages of 45-54 and 10 percent between 55-64.
More than 85 percent of respondents identified themselves as "Non-Hispanic White," while just under 5 percent selected "Black or African American".
(This is the first of three parts in our Crime in Your Community series. Part Two is a map showing crime rates across mid-Missouri and in similar towns across the nation. Part Three is a timeline of major crime events in mid-Missouri throughout 2013 and be published Wednesday.)
Michelle Schuelke, Addison Walton, Lucas Geisler and Elaina O'Connell contributed to this report.