Drunk college students lying on lawns.
Cars speeding along streets.
Those were among the complaints voiced Monday night when the Columbia Police Department and the Hospitality Zone Task Force hosted a public safety meeting at the Martin Luther King Park community center. The clash between long-time residents of the predominantly black neighborhood and the growing number of college student neighbors dominated the meeting.
“When they get together it’s a mess,” said Alfred Davis, a Lee Street resident. “You can’t rest. The streets are overcrowded. It’s just aggravation.”
When a city official asked for addresses of problem houses, Durham Carter, an MLK neighborhood leader, rattled off the names of four other city officials he already had spoken to and the dates he had those conversations. “The city is dragging its feet and nothing is happening,” Carter said.
The meeting was called by the Hospitality Zone Task Force, a group established in 2011 to address ongoing concerns in the city’s nightlife areas, including Five Points and the Vista. The task force has been largely inactive but members are trying to reboot its mission.
On Monday night, concern about crime in neighborhoods surrounding Five Points received more attention than problems within the boundaries of the area that is home to shops, restaurants and bars.
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago used the meeting to update residents on 2013 crime statistics across the city as well as in Five Points.
Overall, the number of violent and non-violent crimes in Columbia rose between 2011 and 2012. But crime numbers have dropped in the first two quarters of 2013, Santiago said.
Total violent crimes, including homicides and robberies, reached 226 between April 1 and June 30, a 38 percent drop from the first quarter. Total property crimes, including burglaries, reached 2,089 in the second quarter, a 14 percent drop from the first quarter, according to police statistics.
Santiago attributed the drop to a fully staffed police force and better use of technology within the department.
When Santiago finished his presentation and opened the floor to questions, the criticism began.
People complained that police rarely get out of their cars to talk to neighbors. They accused police of being rude and not respecting them. They reported vacant houses, litter and dark alleys that have been ignored.
“When I tell you something, just because I’m a woman of color, don’t think I don’t know what I’m talking about,” said Minnie Wilson-Bivins, who lives on Pendleton Street. “You will make me madder than you’ve ever seen your wife.”
Santiago and other city officials scribbled notes and pledged to respond to complaints.