Columbia leaders discuss crime, gangs and possible solutions

Columbia city leaders including the mayor, police chief and city council members held a press conference at City Hall Wednesday to discuss a recent rash of violent crime in the city.

One of the first to speak was Mayor Bob McDavid, who applauded the Columbia Police on their efforts to combat crime and bring those responsible to justice.

McDavid went so far as to call the shooters victims, because he said the CPD has a great track record finding the perpetrators and arresting them.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton also spoke at the news conference Wednesday and gave a brief update on current investigations. Chief Burton told the room that the shooting in downtown Columbia was gang-related.

The growing gang problem and the fact that the people involved in most of these violent crimes was the main focus of the remainder or the session.

"I know of at least five to six gangs that have been in our community over the years. I have been telling people that local gangs are just as dangerous as the national gangs. Whenever you have groups of young people carrying illegal weapons, dealing in have a problem," Ward 5 Councilwoman Laura Nauser said.

Chief Burton suggested a teen curfew, but that suggestion met opposition from council members.

"The recent shootings have also involved individuals who are over 18. Therefore, a simple 17 and under curfew won't address the large overall problem. Most of the 17-years-old and under in Columbia are not a problem," Ward 6 Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe told the crowd.

The council members, mayor and police chief all agreed that the solution to violent crime extends beyond the police force and government to the community as a whole.

"If we really want to be safer we've got to keep our eyes out on each other. We need to spend more time on our front porches instead of our back porches. When I've asked the people who are afraid of the crime...I encourage them to talk to their neighbors. When I found a pretty good correlation of people who are afraid of street crime, my followup question is 'do you know your neighbors?" Ward 2 Councilman Michael Trapp said.

A couple council members suggested a task force to find a long-ranging solution to the crime. Some suggested programs to engage youth in safe, healthy activities.

Prevention and intervention were key elements of Wednesday's discussion, with an emphasis on making sure you are informed on the lives of your loved ones; who they hang out with, whether there are drugs involved and whether there are any gang elements are all important things to address.