Mayor's Task Force Plans to Tackle Changing Crime

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COLUMBIA - The Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence is hoping its latest strategy will help find solutions to changes in area crime.

"We have 13 individuals on the task force, a very broad section of individuals from the community," task force member David Thomas said. "We are now split into 4 different groups and that is more on the individual's strengths."

The first of those groups is Pamela Hardin, Lorenzo Lawson, Chris Campbell and Chris Haynes. They plan on talking with people involved in or affected by violence. Dan Hannekin, Cindy Garrett and Mike Hayes will analyze police reports and court files. Paul Prevo, David Thomas and Glenn Robertson will talk with nonprofits and social service agencies to see what they are doing about violent crime. Tyree Byndom, Steve Calloway and Jerry Taylor comprise the fourth and final group. Those three are scouring news site and social media accounts for information surrounding previous violent incidents.

These groups are focusing on the task force's four pillars for success: prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry. With two-thirds of its 18-month charter left, the task force believes dividing into smaller groups is the most efficient way to tackle the changing violent crime. Though it is down from the five-year average of nearly 378 to 329, about 13 percent, violent crime has migrated to other parts of Columbia.

The Oct. 27 shooting near the intersection of Stadium boulevard and Bernadette drive earlier this year exemplifies this transition.

"I was thinking this can't be real," a 16-year-old witness said.

That 16-year-old girl and her friend were on their way home from Fear Fest around 12:30 a.m. They were planning on making a pit stop for hot chocolate, but the night soon took a turn, "The next second I knew, they were shooting at them," she said. "I seen the glass from the window fall and I seen the guy holding the gun out the window."

Moments later, a ricochet bullet struck the front license plate of her friend's car. After several shots rang out, the girl said the cars sped away. At 12:46 a.m., a 17 and 18-year-old male with gunshot wounds were dropped off at University Hospital.

"It has me scared because you don't expect that kind of thing to happen," the 16-year-old said.

In the past six months, 19 percent of shots fired incidents occurred around the first ward. However, the other 81 percent, or more than 150 incidents, happened in other areas of Columbia.

"If it happens in certain areas, not that it is acceptable, but it's kind of an expectation," member Tyree Byndom said. "But now it's unpredictable and so it really brings a different level of fear, of terror. So I think there are more people that are understanding it's more of a community issue, not just a poor or a class issue."

Despite this evolution in violent crime, task force members are confident they will find solutions, "This is just a beginning process and hopefully what we give, there's a solution and I'm pretty optimistic that with these 13 people as well as two council people, we'll figure it out," Byndom said.

The task force will continue to meet twice a month. However, its four groups will meet in separate break-out sessions before sharing their findings in a six to seven-hour retreat in January.