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THE TOP TEN REASONS: Crime is such a big problem in Columbia, Missouri

A top ten list we have the power to change
 
COLUMBIA, Mo 8/2/13 (Op Ed) -- Crime is a problem in many American cities. So why single out CoMo for top ten treatment? 
 
Simple:  Each community has different "issues" that contribute to crime. 
 
International money laundering might be part of the drug problem in L.A., but not so much Columbia.  Mafia hits might be a problem in New York, but in Columbia -- not so much.
 
The Cook County Sheriff might get along well with the Chicago police chief, but the Boone County Sheriff and Columbia police chief -- well, they ain't exactly hittin' it off these days.
 
In the spirit of identifying particular issues we can change, here are the Top Ten Reasons Crime is Such a Big Problem in CoMo, in order of importance.
 
 
10. Disrespect for law enforcement.  Between a faddish infatuation with so-called "ghetto culture" among the kiddos and a disregard for positive public relations among the police (see reasons 9a and 9b below), respect for law enforcement is at an alarming low. 
 
Community cooperation in the fight against crime is hard to secure in such a low-respect environment.  "No snitch?"  Of course not.  Why snitch on a crook if you have no respect for the cop?   


9a. Dreadful public relations at the Columbia Police Department (CPD).   Where to begin?  From Canine Fano to the SWAT Pot Bust, CPD desperately needs a public relations strategy.
 
Cloistered in a forbidding building behind bulletproof glass, surveillance cameras, and that armored vehicle from the movie Die Hard our police purchased this year, today's CPD seems more like a secretive military operation than a group of neighborhood beat cops whose crime fight begins with neighborly relations.  

This poor public image leads directly to Reason #10 -- disrespect for law enforcement.  We rarely hear about the positive encounters citizens have with police officers that engender respect.   Instead, the department has negligently allowed a Cops R Bad image to cement itself in the public eye.  

Case in point:   our publication nominated CPD officer Tim Thomason for the Ed Robb public service award, which he won.   Betcha didn't know that. 
 
 
9b. Dreadful public relations among organizations that represent the Men and Women in Blue.  As an attorney, Dale Roberts should know better.
 
The director of the Columbia Police Officers Association (CPOA), Roberts has presided over several tactless gaffes (mostly on Facebook) that have landed CPOA -- and by extension, CPD -- on the pages of theHuffington Post  and other national publications. 
 
Roberts characterized a roadside cavity search by Texas police officers -- yes, "cavity search" -- as "customer service" while earlier, a CPOA rep bragged that the department's new Die Hard armored vehicle would prompt "all the boys in the hood to come running out the house – just to admire your ride!"

The media had a field day with the racial implications of that ill-advised quip.   And respect for police fell again.

 
8. Lack of affordable, OWNER-OCCUPIED housing.  Columbia is a renters' paradise, largely because a transient student population drives rental construction.  

But the glue that holds neighborhoods together -- and keeps crooks out -- are owner-occupants, and we have too few owner-occupants in the low to modest income neighborhoods that need them most. 

As a property manager who bought rental property in the central city to convert it to new owner-occupied housing (a strategy I've used in two other communities), I've discovered how difficult it is to build low-to-moderate income owner-occupied housing, particularly in the central city.  

The reasons are many, but a good case study is here.
 
 
7. Landlords renting to repeat, hardened offenders.  I've written about this reason -- a corollary to #8 -- too many times to count, e.g. Of Criminals, and the Landlords Who Rent to Them.  This Trib story -- Nuisances put focus on arrests -- has more details.
 
 
6. Lack of attention to crime PREVENTION.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is nowhere more true than in the annals of crime.  But Columbia's crime prevention programs -- Neighborhood Watch, Crime Free Housing, Neighborhood Response -- have become walking zombies with the loss of key staff and disinterest among city administrators.   We covered this problem here.
 
 
5. That persistent "black-white" divide.  From Douglass Park to the housing projects downtown, CoMo is still segregated.   Columbia's mostly white leaders treat the black community as separate but equal.   This black-white divide is an isolated place where criminals insert themselves.   It's easier to escape detection and commit crime in pockets of segregation.   Close the divide, and you stand a good chance of squeezing the criminal element out.

The divide starts at the table of power, where the black community is dramatically under-represented.  To change that requires full engagement of both the white and black communities, neither of which has had much success with current but old-school strategies. 

The white community means well with diversity celebrations and charity events.  But awards and handouts are poor substitutes for a seat at the power table.  
The black community occasionally protests this situation, but not enough black residents vote in local elections, and not enough black candidates run for office.  


4. "Boosterism." "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil," is no way to govern when there's evil -- i.e. violent crime -- all around.  More on the perils of Boosterism among CoMo's leadership in this story.
 

3.  The Boone County Courts
.   Failure to keep criminals locked up in Columbia and Boone County is a long-standing menace.
 
A few days ago, a caller to the KFRU Sunday Roundtable told the story of Koda Coats, a chronic violent offender who was in and out of jail -- and the BoCo courthouse -- too often to count.  "Our police catch these creeps and our courts turn around and let them go!" the caller complained.  
 
We recounted the similar story of Dorothy Twala Kee, which reads more like a judicial tragedy than a travesty of justice.  
 
 
2. Lack of a unified vision for crime reduction among local leaders.   Mayor Bob McDavid, City Manager Mike Matthes, and Police Chief Ken Burton vs. Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey. 'Nuff said.

 
1. Lack of full community engagement.  John and Jane Q. Public want crime eliminated, but community leaders have done little to engage them.

From Mizzou to Boone County to CoMo City Hall to the school district, top-down leadership rules.  
 
The debate and discussion focuses on what the leadership wants, not what the community wants.  Ten years ago, then First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton wanted a curfew, the community debated it, and the idea died when Crayton's fellow leaders failed to support it.  Now, police chief Burton wants a youth curfew -- and the debate has started all over. 
 
And that dust-up between the Sheriff and city leaders -- we get to focus on their war instead of the war on crime. It's another example of leaders driving the debate with little community buy-in, which is no way to fight crime.
 
-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat
 
 
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