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City Beat: Public-private partnerships to combat crime proposed by residents to City Council

Biz leader says development can be public safety catalyst

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Curtis Marshall, co-owner of Tie & Timber Beer Co., recognizes crime as a challenging issue but thinks public-private partnerships could promote safety.

Marshall spoke to Springfield City Council during the public comment portion of its meeting Oct. 4.

“Effective public safety has many moving cogs,” he said. “I do not believe public safety is, or should it be, the sole responsibility of the public sector. There is a role to play between the public, private and nonprofit arenas.”

Marshall pointed to some of the successes of what he referred to as the Pickwick business district in cutting down on crime in the area of Pickwick Avenue and Cherry Street. There, he said vacant buildings that were previously the site of drug activity and prostitution were developed four years ago with city support.

“This development also served as a catalyst for development throughout the Pickwick district,” he said.

Marshall said the area is safer today than it was four years ago, and he asked council to think of the successes in the district as an example for other parts of the city.

“I believe our city is trending in a very positive direction,” he said. “Let’s heed these red flags that we’re seeing today, create some appropriate stop-gap measures to address minor crime, commit to our longer-term solutions and look forward to the brighter future that we all know is possible.”

Councilperson Richard Ollis agreed that the partnership between the city and private businesses have improved the area.

“We’ve cleaned that area up,” he said. “It also has created economic opportunities. … The apartment house that was completely renovated I’m sure attracts a higher caliber of tenants.”

Added Ollis, “Thank you for speaking and reminding us that it is an ecosystem.”

Other Rountree neighborhood residents raised concerns about recent criminal activity.

Laurel Bryant, a real estate agent who described herself as a neighborhood advocate, related an incident involving four teenage boys who were threatened by an adult with a weapon for walking on a stone wall in the Delaware neighborhood.

“I’m here to ask, where do we draw the line?” she said, adding, “We neighbors do want to partner with police, with the city staff, with the City Council. … The time is now.”

Bryant’s son, Ambrose Layton, 12, spoke about a shooting that had taken place in front of his house in the 1000 block of South Weller Street.

Layton recounted that he was sitting on his couch and watching TV around 9 p.m. Sept. 27 when he heard repeated gun shots. He said he went low and pulled his dogs to the floor with him. After the incident, he called police and his mother.

“It’s insane to think that this happened right in front of my house,” he said.

Afterward, he joined police and neighbors outside. There, police had marked the location of several bullet casings. Damage from bullets was found in a house and a car.

Layton offered a bottom-line assessment to council: “We need to stop gun violence.”

Mayor Ken McClure thanked Layton for speaking up. 

“I know that was a terrifying experience. It has no place in Springfield, and I’m grateful for your comments tonight,” he said.

Police Chief Paul Williams said he shares Layton’s views that gun violence is an urgent problem.

“Gun violence, as I’ve reported before, is probably the No. 1 … problem facing the city – and we’ve been working diligently to try to combat that,” he said.

Other council action

  • Council voted to purchase property at 2131 W. Kingsley St. beside the Fieldhouse Sportscenter to allow for additional parking. It also approved the GAP Collaborative Team to design and construct the Grant Avenue Parkway project.
  • Ben Brown is the manager of two East Norton Road apartment complexes. The addresses he provided to council correspond with Oak Lawn and Garden Gate apartments. He spoke to council Sept. 20 about policing concerns, and returned for the Oct. 4 meeting.

Brown said Springfield Police Department officers he’s spoken with want residents to approach council on their behalf. He also offered an alleged quote from an officer calling Chief Williams “Chief Hug-a-Thug” and saying until Williams is out, nothing will change.

Brown was dissatisfied that his comments in September led the SPD to open an internal affairs investigation.

“I just think that’s the wrong direction to go,” Brown said. “If every time an officer says something like that, he or she runs the risk of having an internal affairs complaint, they’re going to stop talking, and then we have no communication.”

After the council meeting, Williams said, “When I’m provided with information either about crime or officer behavior, I absolutely look into it. If he didn’t want us to look into it, he shouldn’t have said anything.”

Williams also said the department has no record of Brown calling the SPD or making any reports in 2021.

“He didn’t refute that when we talked to him,” Williams said.

Williams said the internal affairs investigation is now closed. “The lack of corroboration for his comments leads me to believe they didn’t occur,” he said.

At the meeting, Brown suggested hiring a consultant to help with law enforcement issues. Councilperson Richard Ollis concurred.

“I think there may be some merit in the speaker’s suggestion of having a consultant,” he said.

  • Council accepted a $46,000 grant from the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to develop a sharable version of SGF Yields, the city’s pedestrian safety program.

With the grant, the city will develop a program kit that other communities can use to increase pedestrian safety and awareness.

“This is a big compliment for us,” said City Manager Jason Gage.

SGF Yields received an innovation award from the Missouri Municipal League in September. City officials say third-quarter crosswalk assessments conducted through the program show driver compliance has risen an average of 63% across Springfield, an increase of 19 percentage points compared with the third quarter of 2020.

  • Gage reported that police officer recruiting has rebounded. The last testing date for 2021 is Oct. 15, and over 50 applicants are signed up, he said.

As of Oct. 1, the department has 41 officer vacancies, down from a high of over 50 in the summer.

  • Council entered into an agreement with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to allow SPD to participate in its Springfield Drug Task Force and increase the SPD budget by $18,649. Williams said the task force investigates the flow of drugs and money through the mail.

Councilperson Mike Schilling was the lone vote against the measure.

“Given our personnel shortage here of policemen, I don’t think it’s wise to dedicate this for that purpose at this time,” he said.

Williams said the position doesn’t just aid the Postal Service, but it also addresses local crime.

“People send drugs here to Springfield, and we have to deal with it when it gets here,” he said.

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