Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence

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COLUMBIA - Community members are still searching for solutions to violent crime after the third Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence meeting.

The group analyzed crime data with Columbia Police at City Hall Wednesday evening. However, the discussion took a turn after task force members revealed locals' distrust with law enforcement. 

Task force member Pamela Hardin said previous events have angered local community members. She addressed Capt. Brian Richenberger and Detective Jon Logan on the issue of distrust, "I don't like being the bad guy, but I like to call things as they are and one of the things is, in the African American community, that trust is not there because of those types of issues. And if the shoe was on the other foot, you'd feel the same way."

Another task force member said he thinks the police should establish a good relationship with residents, especially kids, "I don't want to bash the police, the police have a job to do," Chris Campbell said. "But some people think that, you know, the police are there just to take one of their loved ones away, or they're there any time something bad happens, they don't see them until something bad happens. And I don't want kids to feel that way."

Campell said fostering this kind of relationship could help with crime, "I think if the kids see them as a community member versus somebody that is just coming to them for bad things, they will get a different response from the kids. I think that is part of the violence going down, not necessarily the police's fault we have violence, but if they had that relationship, they could talk to those kids and those kids would respect what they're saying."

Officer James Meyer said he was surprised people brought up trust issues, "It just surprises me that people don't trust the police. I mean, really, what kind of world do we live in? You obviously want people to be able to trust you and be able to talk to you and to know that you're providing the best service possible. That was the point that was brought up that hit home the closest for me."

Meyer said officers have been working on establishing a rapport with locals, especially after his assignment to foot-patrol at Douglass Park in April 2012 following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old DeAudre Orlando Johnson a month earlier. 

Gangs were also a hotly discussed topic. Logan said there are three to four active gangs within Columbia. However, he acknowledged gangs are very difficult to track because of members going in and out of jail. 

The meeting revealed information about city crime rates. Although Richenberger noted current violent crime rates are lower than the five-year average, he said property crime rates are higher than the five-year average. He said burglaries are a significant problem in Columbia right now.

The task force hopes to meet with Columbia Public Schools and the Boone County mental health initiative "Putting Kids First" at its next meeting on Thursday, Oct. 10.