Saturday, May 5, 2007

TROUBLE TOWN, PT. 2: Leaders speak out on crime and rentals

A neighborhood organizer, landlord, and safe community guru speak out
Continued from Part 1

COLUMBIA, 5/2/07 (Beat Byte) -- If ever a mantra applied to Columbia's neighborhood organizers, it might be the thought from Mahatma Gandhi that Thaddeus Simmons appends to his emails:
"Strength does not come from physical capacity.  It comes from an indomitable will."
His own "indomitable will" keeps Simmons -- a Third Ward Homeowners Association president and Neighborhood Watch leader -- ever vigilant about a crime threat that, he says, "has seen double digit percentage increases in my part of the city for several years, accounting in the 4th quarter of 2006 for a third of all property crime in Columbia." 
Simmons partly blames "an overly First Ward-focused" Columbia Police Department and a crime-apathetic City Hall political environment that saw former Third Ward councilman Bob Hutton showing a "complete lack of concern" and current council member Karl Skala running on a "revolutionary" platform of crime reduction. 
"When it comes to property crime prevention, I believe the police department doesn't do very well at all," Simmons told the Heart Beat.  "And the City Council seems essentially impotent when it comes to ridding neighborhoods of run-down, abandoned, or troubled properties." 
When it comes to waking up the unindicted co-conspirators in the struggle against crime -- property owners and landlords -- Simmons calls the new "nuisance property" ordinance a "good start," reminding that before landlords face sanctions, they "have a right to immediately evict tenants for drug crimes."
But AgBrazil CEO and Warnken Properties president Phil Warnken says that with his firm's zero-tolerance policy for crime, he doesn't need a reminder. 

"Officer Tim Thomason writes us reporting difficulties each and every time one of our tenants gets into trouble," Warnken told the Heart Beat.   "If one of our tenants is involved more than once, they are out -- we evict them." 
And an organization Thad Simmons says he'd like to learn more about -- Columbia's Neighborhood Response Team (NRT) -- is itself kicking into higher gear "per City Manager directive," said NRT director Bill Cantin.  
"Primarily a crime prevention/neighborhood safety program, NRT functions by the Broken Windows Theory, which focuses on the physical environment of neighborhoods," Cantin told the Heart Beat.  "Dilapidated properties attract more serious violations; cleaning up those properties will reverse those effects."

PART 1:  The Nightmare on Alton Street

CRIME FREE HOUSING: A Columbia Cop Talks Serious Shop


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