Welcome to the third annual One-Size-Fits-All Candidate Survey, where city council and school board candidates answer questions about issues that affect not just one, but BOTH organizations. We'll be releasing answers to five sets of questions over the course of the campaign.
This time, 2nd ward council candidates Jason Thornhill and Allan Sharrock tackle crime, along with school board candidates Sam Phillips and Michelle Pruitt. Their answers are below their names.
Adding Judges and Landlords to The Criminal Justice Equation
Gatehouse Apartments, at 2401 W. Broadway, has been featured in over a dozen news stories on rising crime in Columbia. Two weeks ago, Gatehouse Apartments resident Eric Kegler Lambert, 21, out on bond for a forgery violation two weeks earlier, was arrested again for probation and parole violations.
Lambert's had breaks by the bushel. In 2005, he faced 1st degree burglary and armed criminal action charges, later plea-bargained to 2nd degree burglary. After a stretch of -- not jail time but "home detention" at 1322 Raleigh Drive -- Boone County Judge Ellen Roper suspended Lambert's five-year prison sentence and placed him on probation. But after Lambert failed to show up for drug rehab at Reality House, Roper revoked his probation and reinstated his 5-year prison sentence.
That was in October 2006. It's February 2009, and for some reason, Eric Kegler Lambert is living, not at the Big House, but at Gatehouse.
The earlier story of 802 Wilkes Blvd:
and felonious shooter Malcolm Redmon:
are more violent and troubling illustrations of the role our courts and landlords should be playing to keep dangerous repeat offenders off the streets, away from our children, and out of our neighborhoods.
2ND WARD CITY COUNCIL and COLUMBIA SCHOOL BOARD
QUESTION 1 -- What role do you think our courts should play in our struggle with crime? What role do you think local landlords should play in our struggle with crime? How can police be expected to cope if courts and landlords -- if the entire community for that matter -- doesn't also partake in the process?
It looks like police are doing their job by watching these nests of criminal activity but are not being backed up by the rest of the justice system. I would like to ask questions that would lead to actionable items: Why are courts sentencing repeat offenders to a slap on the wrist and then re-releasing them?
If they are hamstrung by weak laws, we could work through the legislative system to make it easier for them to deal adequately with criminals. If there are some other flaws in the system or prevailing attitude among judges that needs to be addressed, a different course of action would be called for, but we would have a place to start.
Judges must take the severity and frequency of past convictions into account when determining sentences. The judge has a lot of discretion in many instances when it comes to sentencing. I would like judges to use that discretion to subject people who are repeat offenders to longer or more harsh sentences.
Landlords must take a vested interest in the communities in which they own properties. This means that they should do criminal background checks on their rental applicants. Additionally, landlords can be instrumental in developing neighborhood watch programs in which individuals within the neighborhood look out for each other. Police must recognize the high risk areas for crime and have a strong presence in those areas.
What role do you think our courts should play in our struggle with crime?
Our courts need to put some teeth into their sentencing system. If they are continually unwilling to keep an offender in custody for the length of their sentence, then maybe the length of sentence needs to be reviewed. Personally, one of the most frustrating things I read is about a criminal who was released on a suspended sentence, never to have faced even a fraction of the time they were liable for.
What role do you think local landlords should play in our struggle with crime?
If elected, I intend to open discussion with both the City of Columbia protective inspection division and our police department to determine if there is a way to monitor those landlords who habitually house repeat criminal offenders. The effect of this is a drain on both the property values in a neighborhood and the attitude of those who live nearby but cause no trouble.
How can police be expected to cope if courts and landlords -- if the entire community for that matter -- doesn't also partake in the process?
The police are relegated to a simplified role of catch and release, no doubt feeling less inclined to dedicate time and effort to seeking out these repeat offenders, knowing they’ll likely not spend much, if any time behind bars. We must be able to give them confidence that their efforts to located and arrest offenders are “rewarded” with jail sentences that are upheld.
QUESTION 2 -- If a judge sentences an offender to "home detention" and a landlord is willing to rent to that offender, aren't our neighborhoods in danger of becoming substitute jails? What impact do you think the presence of criminal offenders has on a neighborhood and especially, the children in it?
If a judge sentences an offender to "home detention" and a landlord is willing to rent to that offender, aren't our neighborhoods in danger of becoming substitute jails?
Put another way, what is the true benefit to this type of punishment. If an offender is restricted to his or her residence, what good are they doing society? Wouldn’t we all be better served if, on top of that home detention, they are required to maintain some level of employment? If they are going to be allowed to leave jail, then make them productive in lieu of that.
What impact do you think the presence of criminal offenders has on a neighborhood and especially, the children in it?
Not to minimize the situation, but I do believe that the type of crime certainly has an affect on what I think their presence means to a neighborhood. With that said, it would be better to know that our children do not have to be subjected to the constant exposure to someone who has decided they do not want to abide by society’s laws.
Home detention sentences are an important sentencing option. These sentencing options allow judges to give first time offenders and offenders of lesser crimes a harsher sentence than probation, but at the same time save precious jail space. The presence of these offenders in our communities is a potential problem, but with appropriate communication between law enforcement authorities, these people can be appropriately monitored to ensure that they do not pose a threat to our community.
Are there legal obstacles to landlords evicting criminals? If yes, we as a community could work through the legislative system to remove these obstacles. If no, there should be steps we can take to strongly encourage landlords to step up and be responsible citizens. Landlords should have a responsibility to consider the impact of their tenants on the neighborhoods where they are earning money.
Is it legal to refuse to rent to tenants on home detention? Home detention is sometimes used appropriately. We need to examine statistically if it is being used appropriately in most cases, or if it is being abused as a way to avoid over-crowding our jails.
QUESTION 3 -- What can you, as a newly-elected school board member or city council person, do to encourage our judges, prosecutors, and landlords to reduce crime and keep violent offenders off the street?
As I mentioned in a previous answer, I want to open up communication that would allow the police to know exactly where repeat offenders are being housed. Whether that is via a registry upon reentry to our community, or somehow being able to monitor occupants, I’m unsure. I think that a landlord must have some culpability when it becomes evident that they are repeatedly allowing criminals to be housed in their properties.
We will have to ensure that we are not decreasing our funding for public safety. I will be anxious to hear from our new police chief on his proposals to fighting crime. The reality is that we do not have enough prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and jail space to handle all of our criminals.
What solutions can we find as a community and as a state to reduce criminal activity overall? This is the place where the school board might have a role. Reducing the dropout rate and increasing student achievement might help reduce the population of young people willing to participate in crimes. Students who recognize that they can choose to succeed in school and have an opportunity to support a family and pursue a career after high school are not going to be as likely to participate in risky activities.
SAM PHILLIPS (in answer to all three questions)
Crime is a problem that affects the entire community, including schools. The school district would be well served by inviting board level meetings with community leaders, including public safety officials, to address issues of common concern. My experience investigating, researching, analyzing, and prosecuting criminal and legal ethics cases will help the district successfully work with those groups.