COLUMBIA — The Citizen Oversight Committee task force had their hands full Thursday night.
For two hours they listened to speakers both calm and skittish share their thoughts on the need for a civilian review board keeping tabs on the Columbia Police Department.
NAACP Missouri Conference President Mary Ratliff presented a brief statement on the NAACP’s support of forming such a committee. Meanwhile, the president and vice president of the Columbia Police Officers Association said there is enough external review already in place.
The 15-member task force is responsible for deciding if the city needs citizens to oversee the Columbia Police Department.
Ratliff said a citizen review board would help make the Police Department accountable.
“Citizens of this community believe it is time in the accountability of the Police Department,” Ratliff said. “We need to do all that we can, and the position of a citizen review board would do just that.”
Ratliff said that the NAACP office can receive up to five to six complaints in a week but at least two every month. She did note that complaints have slowed down since the formation of the task force.
“Things seem to be a lot quieter,” Ratliff said.
The NAACP meets with or calls Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm to discuss citizen complaints. Often, the department reports that they find that the officer’s action is justified, Ratliff said.
“We feel some further actions could be taken,” she said.
Mike Hister, vice president of the Columbia Police Officers Association, tried to put committee members in the shoes of police by describing how officers must think and act on a patrol call.
“I do not treat everyone like they are a criminal,” Hister said. “But I will treat everyone like I am a police officer.”
Hister gave a presentation to the committee outlining the thought process when an officer responds to a call and the level of force they may apply when dealing with an incident.
Donald Weaver, president of the police officers association, told the task force that the group is not opposed to some citizen review boards, but it does not see the need for one. Weaver presented the task force with information related to already existing external reviews of the department, including legal and media-related ones.
“We are professionals,” Weaver said. “We can police ourselves.”
Weaver, who is rewriting the policy manual of the Columbia Police Department, suggested that if a civilian review board is created, that an appeals process be put into place with it.
Columbia resident Ron Tooley said he was not surprised at either presentation made by the police officers association. For him, the presentations were limited in scope and in the numbers used as evidence.
“Reality is reality,” Tooley said. “What happens out there can’t be shown by numbers.”
Tooley said he has been racially profiled by the Police Department multiple times, and his 18-year-old son has had to change cars three times to avoid being seen in a “particular” vehicle.
Overall, he wants accountability on all points of the issue, from citizens to criminals to the police department.
“You can’t just do it by looking at surface things,” Tooley said. “It will take everyone to do it.”