- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - The Columbia Police Department is planning to cut back its traffic enforcement unit so that it can expand a unit for community outreach.

Deputy Chief Jill Schlude says the department will shuffle officers to give the community outreach unit six officers, in three teams of two, assigned to specific areas in the city and a sergeant overseeing its operations. Positions to fill the outreach unit will come from the traffic unit.

The outreach unit currently has two officers and a sergeant. The traffic unit has three officers and a sergeant.

The change is part of an effort to move the police department toward a community policing model, in which officers patrol specific areas to improve relationships between police and residents. The Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence included community policing last year in its recommendations to curb violence.

Sgt. Mike Hestir, who oversees the community outreach unit, says the expansion is designed to make the unit work better and be more effective after early successes.

“It’s gone from people telling us to get off their property to people waving at us, saying, ‘Hey how’s it going?’” Hestir said.

Violence Task force co-chair and Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp says “In a perfect world we’d have discretionary police time where all officers can do this, but since we have a small police force there are competing resources.”

The Columbia Daily Tribune (https://bit.ly/1ShkRZ4 ) reports that members of the Mayor’s Task Force on Pedestrian Safety said Monday that they fear loss of traffic enforcement could make the city’s roads more dangerous.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas, who is a co-chair of the pedestrian task force, said he was “very unhappy” to hear the traffic unit will be closed.

“This just makes me think again that we need to increase the size of our police department,” Thomas said.


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