Columbia Crime Rate Still Decreasing

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COLUMBIA - The first half of the year may have seemed especially violent with five homicides in Columbia by July. A summer night shooting in downtown shook the nerves of many residents. Incidents like these left Columbia questioning the safety of the city.

However, looking at the numbers, most major crime categories are decreasing so far this year.

"The crime rate is actually down in 2012," Sergeant Joe Bernhard said. "The 2013 numbers aren't in, but crime has been steady to down over the past 15 to 20 years."

Data comes from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) from the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Bernhard said the department's crime analyst has worked on tracking crime rates and decided to post them on the department's website in late September after several shootings last summer.

Even though the crime rate is down overall, property crime is increasing in one part of the city.

"The population has increased over the last 10 to 15 years, and what we're seeing more down there is more burglaries in the high-density areas like apartment complexes and duplexes and things like that," Bernhard said.

Even with the influx of property crimes in South Columbia, burglaries in Boone County are the lowest they have been in three years.

Bernhard said when a city grows, so does crime.

In the past 10 years, Columbia's population has grown from 88,328 people to 113,225, increasing nearly 23 percent. However, Columbia's police department grew Just 15 percent from 136 officers to 160.

"Most of the burglaries and larcenies are from cars or buildings that are unlocked," Bernhard said.

One South Columbia resident fell victim to a break-in. Luckily, he nor his two roommates were home at the time of the invasion.

"They got in our home because our backdoor was unlocked," Alex Sanchez said. "When I came home the next morning, I saw that my door was left open."

Sanchez said electronics in his room, like his laptop and cellphone, were gone. His roommate's laptop was stolen as well.

That same August night, there were five other reported break-ins with similar stories.

Around the same time, the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence was created in response to the public's concern.

"What I've noticed is when there's a property crime, that for some period of time in kind of a block or two radius, all of those folks get more concerned," Michael Trapp said.

Second Ward councilman Trapp serves as the co-chairman of the task force. He said the media plays a role in creating the fear.

"There are bigger concerns in Columbia than crime, especially since crime has been decreasing in Columbia over the past 10 or 15 years," Trapp said. "There are greater threats to public safety, like not having a sidewalk on my street."

So, what about all the "shots fired" calls?

A detective at the Boone County Sheriff's Department said these kinds of calls happen all the time.

"We're obviously seeing more gun violence. People seem quicker to pick up a gun and use it than they did, say, 10 or 15 years ago," Tom O'Sullivan said.

Shots fired are not recorded in the UCR. O'Sullivan said most reports turn out to be loud noises, not actual gunshots.

The number of real shots that are actually fired is down this year.

"Most of the guns used in violent crimes are stolen," Trapp said. "So, it's really important for people who own firearms to be responsible about that and make sure they're locked up and they're secure."

RAIDS, an online data service, provides mapping and statistics for Columbia that is available for the public.

The Columbia Police Department has a partnership with CrimeReports, a site that maps where crimes occurred in the city. The search can be refined to specific crimes. Data from the police department will upload to the site each business day.