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Columbia Police Chief Calls for Curfew

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Columbia’s police chief is calling for a teen curfew after a recent spate of shootings that has city leaders and many residents on edge.

Chief Ken Burton said Wednesday he will develop a formal proposal for City Council consideration within the next month. He spoke at a City Hall news conference along with Columbia’s mayor and five council members several of whom immediately said they do not support the chief’s recommendation.

The move comes after four shootings over nine days in the central Missouri college town, including a late-night weekend spray of gunfire at a downtown intersection in which three young men were wounded as dozens of onlookers hovered close by, eager to watch the fight unfold. A cell phone video of the June 15 shooting at the corner of Tenth Street and Broadway quickly went viral. Later Wednesday, police arrested a 20-year-old Columbia man on suspicion of first-degree assault and armed criminal action.

On Sunday, 25-year-old Anthony Unger of Jefferson City was shot dead in what Burton called a drug deal gone bad. Two people have been arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder, but police said neither pulled the trigger.

“There’s absolutely no reason any child under the age of 17 should be downtown at one in the morning,” Burton said. “We’re putting our children in harm’s way.”

Burton then appealed for support from “every law-abiding citizen in this city,” mindful that previous proposals for a Columbia curfew have failed in recent years. He suggested city voters consider the measure if elected leaders balk, and said he’d be willing to craft a temporary policy that would expire after two years once its impact could be measured.

A police unit dedicated to downtown patrols was not on duty at the time because the patrol members had worked the previous six weekends, the chief said. City Manager Mike Matthes later said he plans to ask the council to approve the hiring of three new officers in the upcoming fiscal year.

Council member Michael Trapp, a drug abuse counselor, spoke forcefully against a curfew, which he called a “status crime.”

“You are guilty not because of what you are doing, but because of who you are,” said Trapp, who predicted that a curfew would increase crime in the city and entrap otherwise law-abiding teens in the criminal justice system. He and other colleagues instead suggested creation of a community task force that would examine the broader issues behind the recent violence, from after-school programs to economic inequality.

A crowd of nearly 100 residents, business owners, community leaders and police brass attended the afternoon press conference. Dave Hestir, marketing director for the city’s five Jimmy John’s sandwich shops, said the city needs to strike a balance between maintaining the aspects of college-town life that have helped push Columbia’s population above 100,000 over the past decade and ensuring the safety of residents and visitors. His company’s downtown store is roughly 100 feet from the early Saturday shooting already seen by more than 120,000 YouTube viewers.

“I’m concerned not only as a citizen of Columbia, but for the safety of our customers,” he said. “Every city has crime problems. Columbia is a great town. We need to come together, work as a community to find a solution, and not waste time.”

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