Increased crime downtown follows spike in student population

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COLUMBIA - According to data from the Columbia Police Department, crime in downtown Columbia has increased every year since 2010, and a department official said he thinks having more students downtown has played a role.

Columbia's total population increased by 7,229 from 2010 to 2013. In the same time period, MU has seen record high student enrollment. Three major student housing complexes have gone up around the downtown area where crime has spiked.

So far this year, there have been more than 7,250 crimes committed downtown.

CPD crime analyst Jerry East said it is very centralized around the bar district, and has been for the past several years. The majority of CPD's disturbance calls come from this area.

Police Lieutenant Krista Shouse-Jones said the department does have a special focus on downtown.

"We're very mindful of our downtown being a growing area, and that's why we have officers specifically assigned down there just to deal with issues that do arise from having a large number of people in a relatively small area of space, " she said.

Jesse Garcia, the owner of Roxy's on Broadway, said he has noticed more inebriated students out at night.

"What I see most with population increase is zombified kids walking everywhere," Garcia said. "Before they had downtown student housing the way they did, after the party was over, they went home, they left downtown and it was over then. Now, there's more people all the time and they don't have anywhere else to go. They walk home and they stay here."

Garcia has worked downtown in different bars and music venues for 15 years, and said he has noticed increased crime.

"I think crime in Columbia overall has gotten to an out of control state," Garcia said. "I moved here in 99, and I don't know if we have any more officers on the street than we did back then."

He said he sees more "pranky college kid stuff" than violent crime stemming from the influx of young residents.

"More intoxicated kids walking around is a bit more of a learning curve," Garcia said. "You see some pretty silly stuff. I think I saw a stop sign put in the middle of the road one night. So there's those kinds of silly things are going on."

Bill Cantin, Neighborhood Communications Coordinator for the city, handles graffiti clean up downtown, and said it's typically younger residents doing the spray painting.

"It's more just your typical, just tagging," Cantin said. "Your average, college-aged white male is usually the stereotypical person who does graffiti."

East also said with more residents and housing, there are more opportunities to break into cars and apartments. He said the CPD has recently collected more calls and reports about larceny and burglary from unlocked cars and apartments simply because it's more convenient to commit those crimes.

"I think any time that you have the population density of an area increase, you're going to have more activities of every kind," Shouse-Jones said. "Whether that be foot traffic, vehicle traffic or business in some respects. Crime can sometimes go along with that."

Garcia said having officers physically walking in the downtown area at night, when more people are in the bar district, is the most effective way to stop and deter crime.

"The best it's ever been is when there's cops on the beat walking, let me specifically say walking," Garcia said. "When they make their presence known by walking around the streets on a regular beat, they get to know the people that are down there. They get to know the business owners and the trouble makers, and when they walk by, people are less likely to do anything stupid. When they drive by, it's out of sight out of mind. They know a cop's just going to pass by real quick, but they're also less likely to see the trouble that's happening."

"We try to maximize foot patrols as much as we can because we realize that's the most visible form of kind of patrol we can do in an area like downtown," Shouse-Jones said. "And the other part of that is that officers are more approachable when they're on foot."

As far as business goes, Garcia said the increase in downtown population has been fantastic.

"My bar is growing exponentially at the moment and I feel like a lot of the businesses - downtown restaurants, hotels, everything - are going to benefit from having so many people," Garcia said. "I've already seen the increase. I think it's overall good for the area to have the people down here, but the city is going to have to pony up their part as well. The police department needs better reactions to the crime we do have."