Yesterday Jason McKenzie’s bike was stolen. Jason is well known in the community for his entrepreneur endeavors, being part owner of Ride on Bikes, multiple involvements in non-profits, and his enthusiastic support of our town’s revitalization. When his bike was stolen he called the cops. However, he ultimately knew it would be his network and community that would find his bike, or the (at least) 215 shares he had from his Facebook posts, and he was right.
A couple of months ago I encountered the same dilemma of theft. My favorite bike was stolen, along with several other bikes in our building, and we made a police report (which did help), but the network of Active Columbus, GA Facebook group found our bikes. Someone spotted a bike they recognized as being stolen, from the Facebook post on Active Columbus, at Front Porch of the South. They then found several stolen bikes, kayaks, and even a surfboard, traced it through police reports (always make a report), and I retrieved my favorite bike!
By living in a smaller city, we feel like a low crime rate should be one of the perks, and we expect it. When I purchased a loft here with a security system, I did not expect my beloved bike to be stolen from my hallway, and more seriously, a parent doesn’t expect their child to be murdered here either. Coping with crime is one of the most important functions of government and community, on every level. To keep it very basic, crime rates in Columbus were almost twice as high as the national average in 2007-09. Rates mostly dropped and we saw improvements through 2012. Crime rates increased in 2013 and they are still higher than the national average. In 2013 and 2014 there were 22 murders each year in Columbus, GA.
“The article doesn’t mention anything about how horrible crime is now. This week there were 8+ homicides, and home robberies and car break ins are an everyday occurrence. I used to feel safe in my home (behind Waddell) until my neighbor told me he was robbed at gun point a few weeks ago. I felt safer when I lived in Atlanta. I also do not feel that Columbus is as gay and dog friendly as it could be.” When I wrote, “I Don’t Feel Like I’m in Columbus Anymore” this was one of the responses. The last statement is comical for anyone who knows me, but the crime here is not. Crime is a very complex, touchy, personal, divisive subject with a lot of emotions and varied statistics. I’m hesitant to write about crime, but if this town is going to have an effective, informed conversation, conducive to revitalization, than let’s talk about it! Fact check: we did not have 8+ homicides in one week last year. This is another reason to discuss our issues, because if we’re uniformed about the facts it prevents our community from progressing and having healthy, productive conversations. Crime is a problem here, but who is willing to help find our town a solution? Are we doing everything we can, Columbus, GA?
State senator of Georgia, Josh McKoon, believes a solution to our crime includes hiring more police officers (that were intended to be hired since 2008), and uses New York City as an example of success. New York City’s Mayor Giuliani added more police, resulting in increased property value, while creating a culture of obedience and safety. McKoon suggests, and many concur, the city should look at where we are allocating funds and shift more of our budget to law enforcement.
The Columbus Police Department is currently running a recruiting campaign (since last February), and hired 58 new officers to the force in 2014. Sargent David Ellmer, part of the recruiting team explains, “CPD is budgeted for 488 officers and we currently have 463, or 25 short. When we started the recruiting campaign we were 40 short. We did hire 58 new officers in 2014, but it’s constant recruiting in this line of work, and a lot of people retired last year.”
The city of Columbus is paying for new police officers to be trained but, because they don’t make as much here, a lot of them accept jobs, or transfer to other locations. Fighting crime could be very effective, but if the statistical correlation between crime and poverty are positive, then we need to focus more on implementing anti-poverty
I asked Sgt. Ellmer his opinion on the most successful way to fight crime and he explained, “Community policing is the most powerful way to combat crime. We have to work together. Instead of the community being against us, we need them to be with us. People are so busy, too busy, to stop and notice (crimes and criminals).”
Case in point: Jason and several others, including me, were able to track down people committing crimes by our network and personal relationships. We were able to combat crime by our community’s united accountability. This is the original plan, to live in unity and to know your neighbors, to help them out when in need, and to hold them accountable by standing up to them (in love) when they are doing something wrong. Since the suburban sprawl, and an array of other reasons, we have become less knowledgeable of who is in our city, and have lost touch with this method across America.
Citizens for Police at Lakebottom 24/7/365, Phenix city AL/Columbus GA neighborhood watch, The Neighborhood Watchers, and others, are some community initiatives trying to help fight crime through social media community policing. These networks are Facebook groups sharing information about our area’s crimes.
We can create a culture here in Columbus where crime is unacceptable, by helping fight crime, not as separate entities, but as a united front. Please let us know your suggestions on how to improve our community’s safety. We are in this community together, let’s make the most of it.
Written by Jacy Jenkins
Photo by Jason McKenzie and Josh McKoon