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City Beat: Chief shares crime data amid uptick in violence

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Data presented to Springfield City Council by Police Chief Paul Williams on Nov. 20 show a diminishing number of crimes against persons in the city. His report covered the first three quarters of the year, a period ending Sept. 30.

Even so, recent crimes, including three homicides in November and one in October not included in the data, have led to concerns about an uptick in violence, according to two community members who spoke at the meeting.

Williams shared data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System, administered by the FBI, showing that violence against persons declined by 36 cases, or less than 1%, through Sept. 30 this year compared with 2022.

Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter declined from 12 to 11 incidents through the end of September, while negligent manslaughter held steady at five incidents.

Aggravated assault, which is assault using a weapon, declined 14.5% to 1,277 incidents, though simple assault, without a weapon, rose 14.1% to 2,627.

In other statistics reported, there were 17 fewer kidnapping cases from 41 last year, a 41.5% decline, while rape declined by 30 cases from 107, a 28% reduction.

Williams also pointed to a 16.5% reduction in crimes against property year over year for the same nine-month period. Among these types of crimes, theft from buildings declined by 19.8% to 570 incidents, and there were 608 fewer thefts from motor vehicles to 1,072, a 36.2% decrease year over year.

A third category, crimes against society, recorded an uptick of 1.8%, including a 2.4% increase in drug/narcotics violations and a 14.5% increase in drug equipment violations. Decreases were noted in some areas, including pornography, prostitution and weapon law violations.

In his remarks to council, Williams revisited a theme that has been constant in his crime reports, which is the prevalence of guns in the city. Even so, he noted reports of shots being fired in the city has declined in almost every month of this year. If the trend continues, he said 2023 will be lower than the last four or five years in the number of shots-fired incidents.

In a media scrum following his remarks to council, but prior to the public comment period in the council meeting, Williams noted the department is short-handed, with a current deficit of 60 officers.

“The community needs to step up and help us to prevent gun violence, and they can’t just depend on the Police Department to respond after the fact and pick up the shell casings and arrest the bad guys,” he said.

He added that November’s violent incidents will impact the statistics. Among these were three fatal shootings in one week – Nov. 13, 14 and 18.

“As a community, we’re starting to address it, and I really want to see those numbers continue to go down,” he said. “I’d really like to see them be pre-2017 numbers, where we had half as many shots fired – half as many people shot as we do now.”

The state legislature approved the carrying of concealed firearms without a permit as of Jan. 1, 2017, a factor Williams told council was a factor in the increase in gun-related crimes.

Williams said by size, Springfield is a mid-major city.

“Springfield is a very safe community. There is violent crime; there is violent crime anywhere,” he said. “We attract people from 150 miles around for education, entertainment, work, medical services – and crime.”

He said gun violence is higher than it was seven or eight years ago, and that absolutely affects people.

“But I’ll emphasize again, we don’t have the collateral damage and the random violence that some other cities do,” he said. “Very rarely do we have random violence or gang activity where they miss who they’re shooting at and hit some random person or random child. Thank God, we haven’t had that, but that’s my goal, to keep that from happening and take these violent criminals off the street.”

Speaking at the end of the council meeting were community activist Renee Goodwin and Springfield NAACP President Kai Sutton. Both referred to the recent outbreak of violence in the community and urged council to take action.

“If we don’t come together, this is only going to get worse,” Sutton said.

Goodwin said she received many calls about gun violence in the past week.

“The community is very concerned about the uptick in violence,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Goodwin said she heard Williams report the declining crime figures but insisted more could be done to curb violence.

“If you all aren’t seeing what’s going on around us, we have a big problem,” she said.

Councilmember Monica Horton noted the Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc. has formed a Gun Violence and Gun Safety Collaborative that plans to hold a community meeting on Dec. 4.

“I certainly want to hold space at this council meeting tonight for so many who lost their lives on the streets here in Springfield due to gun violence,” she said.

Jefferson Avenue Footbridge
The renovation of the 1902 Jefferson Avenue Footbridge on historic Commercial Street is set to move forward with council’s approve of $8 million in funding from the Missouri legislature.

The 562-foot steel pedestrian bridge, which spans 13 tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was closed in 2016 when Public Works inspectors found corrosion and steel loss in the north support column, according to an explanation by the city.

The renovation will include the addition of elevators to serve people with disabilities.

An additional $300,000 in the estimated repair cost will be paid by the city’s quarter-cent capital improvement and eighth-cent transportation sales taxes, and funds have already been budgeted.

The project is expected to go out for bid in spring 2024, with construction to begin by the end of the year, according to Eric Claussen, assistant director of Public Works.

Mary Collette, president of the Commercial Club, expressed her enthusiasm for the project.

“I want to represent all of the people who have told me about their first dates they’ve had on the footbridge, about riding their bicycles across the footbridge, about watching sunsets on the footbridge, watching events on the footbridge,” she said. “Every single person since it’s been closed for eight years has asked me, ‘When is it going to open?’ They’re all here tonight with me.”

Other action items:

  • Annexed into the city were 5.5 acres at 5298 E. Farm Road 104 owned by Kurt Wouk. A new commercial development is proposed by Wouk – specifically a recreational vehicle park adjacent to the Buc-ee’s travel center in northeast Springfield.
  • Council approved the rezoning of 21 acres at 901 S. West Bypass to general retail from single-family residential and highway commercial for a mixed-use development with enhanced greenways trail connections, proposed by Carleton Resources LLC.
  • To make the way for multifamily residential housing, council OK’d the rezoning of 2 acres in the 1200 blocks of East Pacific and East Locust streets to low-density multifamily residential from general manufacturing. The owner of the property is JNE Holdings, and 11 units are planned. Also approved was the rezoning of 3 acres at 4123 W. Chestnut Expressway and 430 N. Meteor Ave. to medium-density multifamily residential from highway commercial, owned by the Mearl Curtis et al. Revocable Living Trust, which plans to build 60 units.
  • Infrastructure improvements were also approved by council, including $1.9 million from the Clean Water Fund for the James River Lift Station and $950,000 from the quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax for a stormwater project on South Pickwick Avenue and East Grand Street.
  • Council also approved the $3.9 million bid of JD Wallace Contracting LLC for improvements to the Hunt Branch Trunk Sewer, located south of U.S. Highway 60 from Farm Road 189 to State Highway NN.
  • Restore SGF and the Springfield Community Land Trust will distribute $565,000 in affordable housing funds allocated by the city from its Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds. The funds will be used for homeownership assistance with grants of up to $9,000 to help up to 50 qualified homebuyers.
  • A $3.5 million Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission grant was accepted to extend Eastgate Avenue from Division Street to the entrance of Springfield Underground.
  • Council accepted $297,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for an adult vaccination program.

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