Columbia mayor: Raise property tax to hire more police

Mayor Bob McDavid told reporters Monday the city needs to hire 35 additional police officers to regain control over the crime rate.

McDavid said it would cost $3.5 million to hire and train that many police officers, money he said the city currently doesn't have. He said the city would be able to afford the additional manpower if it raised its property tax by 20 cents, a proposal he said he would like to put before residents as early as this November if possible.

He said Columbia currently has 1.45 police officers per 1,000 residents, down from 1.59 officers in 2002 and well below the national average of 2.2 officers per 1,000 residents. McDavid said sales taxes are too volatile to trust with bringing in additional revenue and the city can not pay for that many officers solely by cutting other programs.

During Monday's hourlong press conference, McDavid said the city's per capita crime rate is lower than it was in the 1990s. He noted the city had nine murders in 1994, when the population was significantly smaller. Nevertheless, the mayor displayed statistics showing an increase in gun violence in the city every year since 2009, with an average of one shots-fired incident every six days over the last three years.

"We are becoming an armed society," he said, blaming today's culture for glorifying violence.

In addition to hiring more police, McDavid named a youth antiviolence task force contingent upon a city council vote Monday night. Council members Laura Nauser and Mike Trapp would co-chair the task force, which would include community leaders from MFA CEO Jerry Taylor to Youth Empowerment Zone Executive Director Lorenzo Lawson to Pam Hardin, 1st Vice President of Columbia's NAACP chapter.

He said the group would be given a "wide berth" in deciding which issues to investigate. McDavid stressed the importance of including input from Columbia's black community in the task force. He said he hopes to have get a comprehensive report from the group in 15 months.

Cynthia Blueitt, a Columbia resident who attended Monday's press conference as well as Saturday's protest over the police department's handling of the Brandon Coleman shooting, told KRCG 13 she was encouraged by the makeup of the task force but felt McDavid was "very short-sighted" in blaming popular culture for violence in the streets. She said the fight against crime starts at home.

"We need to start teaching our children from a young age not to look to the streets for a sense of guidance and family," she said.

Blueitt and Columbia resident Mike Jackson said they felt the mayor's property tax proposal was one Columbia residents could afford. Jackson said hiring additional police officers would be the most effective way for the city to reduce crime.