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Safety and Justice Roundtable Presents Two Year Update

The Springfield-Greene County Safety and Justice Roundtable met Monday with local officials to present their two year update on public safety and the local criminal justice system. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe reports.

The roundtable found that although Springfield and Greene County have several weak spots, there is some good news, too. The good news first: the county and the city have combined their emergency response agency facilities. A new, 20 million dollar public safety center is under construction in Springfield. Also, the police and fire departments are almost fully staffed, and the police and sheriff's departments are sharing data and communicating better.

But big problems still exist, the roundtable found, and those problems won't be cheap to fix. The biggest problem, highlighted by Greene County Administrator Tim Smith, is that local detention facilities are bursting at the seams. He said the county is having to release lower level criminals because of overcrowding.

“Any misdemeanor, DWI one through four offenses, vehicle break ins, burglaries, thefts, assaults, drug possessions, lower level sex offenders, forgeries, ex parte violations and so on. We simply don’t have room,” Smith said.

Other problems are a 33 percent increase in child abuse and neglect cases, a lack of jail staffing, staff members who are grossly underpaid, and a lack of funding for new police and fire department vehicles and equipment. According to Smith, the amount of money it will take to fix these problems is more than the county can ask from its residents.

“We estimate that it could take as much as an additional 20 to 25 million dollars per year to operate our public safety and criminal justice systems at regional and national norms. That’s not a Cadillac, it’s a Chevrolet,” Smith said.

The 18-member roundtable was created in December of 2007 with the idea that it would take no more than a year to establish recommendations to improve the county’s criminal justice system. Two years later, those recommendations were established, and this week it's highlighting its accomplishments, as well as the unmet goals.

Roundtable co-chair Dr. Robert Spence explained the mission of the roundtable.

“The charge that was given to the roundtable was first of all to develop a comprehensive understanding of the community’s criminal justice system through studying the interconnectivity of all the departments and offices within the system, secondly to identify and prioritize needs within the system, and thirdly to recommend solutions that would address those needs that have been identified,” Spence said.

The members of the roundtable will reconvene in two weeks, when Smith and City Manager Greg Burris will meet with them to further discuss options for getting the money needed to fix these problems. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.