Columbia police chief speaks on downtown violence

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COLUMBIA – In his first comments on the extended period of weekend violence in downtown Columbia, Police Chief Ken Burton said at least some of the incidents have a gang element.

"We believe some of them are gang-related, others have just been disturbances and people had firearms on when they happened and shots got fired," he said.

Burton said CPD has been able to identify some of the suspects and determine why the shots were fired. However, Burton said he was not sure whether any of the suspects had been arrested.

Burton says there will be extra police presence downtown for the weekend starting on Friday, as students come back from summer vacation.

"With the kids coming back and all the other activities going on downtown, we wanted to make sure we had adequate resources available so that we could make it safer for everybody that wants to come down and enjoy downtown," he said.

Burton said one of the challenges when reinforcing police presence downtown is the shortage of police officers.

He said the department works closely with the city council to fill in those gaps, but the decrease in revenue from sales tax makes it harder for CPD to pay for more officers.

"There's either money there or there's not and the council can't print money, just like I can't," he said. "We need more staffing, so does the fire department, so the other city departments."

Burton said the city's financial situation makes it harder for CPD to patrol throughout the city. He said the department is having to draft some people to reinforce police presence downtown.

"Those resources would have to come from somewhere else," he said. "What we were encountering is we're having enough people on duty but if you had a disturbance or something like that downtown, and you had a significant number of officers that had to come downtown, then there were other areas of the city that were not being covered."

Burton said the police department does not have a long-term, permanent solution to the increase in violence downtown. He said the upcoming weekend would help them see what strategies work best.

"We are going to evaluate on a week-to-week basis, see how it goes this weekend," he said. "It's a training period for the new students that come in, as to what they can do and what they can't do. It would be an opportunity for officers to interact with students that are down there this weekend and kind of set the tone for the whole semester."

Burton said there is only so many things officers can do when trying to develop a new strategy.

"You can't look into a person's heart or what's in their mind, as far of what they're going to do with a firearm," he said. "But we are hoping that our presence would be a deterrent to that kind of behavior."