Understaffed Columbia police battles crime, criticism


Ji-Ho Lee

art by Stephanie Kang
An attempt by the Columbia Police Department (CPD) to effectively use their resources backfired when a study that they contracted from Matrix Consulting Group showed that their efforts were in vain. It revealed a decrease in response to service calls as a result of a move to having two police officers on duty in a patrol unit, as opposed to keeping only one person assigned on patrol.
CPD Public Information Officer Bryana Larimer said the change occurred from an effort to keep officers safe, but it was at the cost of the well-being of the community.
“[The study] noted that we were not as efficient with two-person units as we could have been with just the one-person units,” Larimer said. “That makes sense because you’re ultimately taking up an officer that could have been handling another call. So, what you had seen was a rise in wait time for calls for service.”
The problems don’t just stem from longer wait times when calls are made to the CPD. For Freshman Chandler Schramm and her family, the CPD’s lack of efficiency in resolving the problem was yet another frustration voiced against the department, feeling dissatisfied with the police’s response when a burglary occurred in her neighborhood in early March.
“It made my family really wary about our surroundings,” Schramm said. “We’d always close our garage and it made us all really scared, especially with my younger siblings. I wish the police could have done something or caught them faster, but they’re caught now so it’s okay.”
The CPD has since reverted back to one-person shifts in order to accommodate these rising calls and has readjusted other practices as well, Larimer said.
The study also showed that the times they received the most service calls coincided with times the police changed shifts, leading to the CPD changing shift times; however, Larimer says none of these factors are the ultimate root of the problem.
“We have been understaffed for several years now,” Larimer said. “We are missing about 50 officers, and we did ask, back in 2014, for 50 more officers through a property tax increase. That was not passed, and so we are still working at a level of understaffing and our officers are stretched very thin.”
Columbia Public Schools (CPS) does not expect this understaffing to change anything in their partnership with the CPD, according to CPS communications director Michelle Baumstark, and appreciates its current relationship.
“[CPS] has a great partnership with the [CPD],” Baumstark said. “The school district has school resource officers, which are CPD officers, in its high schools … CPD officers [also] participate in community policing, which means officers frequently visit schools within their beats to develop relationships and familiarize themselves with our school buildings.”
While Schramm has access to all of these resources at school, she said she continues to feel unsafe at home because of the length of time the CPD took to find her neighborhood’s burglar. Larimer and the CPD cannot promise any new developments because of the lack of funds that the CPD has for the growth of the department, as well as having no way to obtain this money.
“It’s up to those that run city government to make the decision on how we’re going to allocate the [city] budget and allocate funds,” Larimer said. “If that means us receiving funds to fund police officers, great … [but] we don’t make propositions like that, we just let people know this is where we’re at, this is how we’re running. We are a very transparent police department; we have nothing to hide.”