Police say there are 2 or 3 active gangs on Columbia streets

Task Force on Community Violence members ask police questions about recent crime

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Police admit multiple gangs, armed and dangerous, are active on Columbia streets.

Officers spoke Wednesday night at the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence meeting, a group looking for a solution to stop crime within city limits.

Wednesday was the first time police made a presentation to the committee.

Police said they believe two or three gangs are active in Columbia and members are as young as 12 years old, sometimes switching affiliations throughout their criminal careers.

But police said gangs are only one component of the recent violent crime. They said the biggest problem is the lack of witness cooperation.

"It's a big obstacle for us when we're investigating a crime and nobody wants to give us any information," said Capt. Brian Richenberger with the Columbia Police Department.

The latest example is the Douglass Park shooting, where police said there roughly 50 witnesses and no one would tell them anything.

Task force member Pamela Hardin said the reason for this is the lack of trust with police, especially in the African-American community.

"They don't want to talk about certain situations because they don't trust police because of past experiences," Hardin said.

Hardin pointed out the most recent example -- the arrest of Eric Cravens in the downtown shooting in June that injured three. Charges were dropped last week because of a lack of evidence.

"If that investigation had been done sooner, that person wouldn't have been in there for three months for something they didn't do," Hardin said. "So when you're dealing with situations like that, of course there's going to be trust issues."

Police also pointed out at the meeting that gang members in Columbia start young and either decide to get out by their twenties or end up in jail.

The task force ended the meeting with talk about activities and organizations that could be created to keep teens and younger kids occupied when they're not in school.

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