COLUMBIA — Candidates for the First Ward seat on the Columbia City Council addressed questions about racial profiling and the need for citizen oversight of police during a Tuesday forum hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
About 30 people attended the forum at Second Baptist Church.
“What we try to do for the NAACP is have a forum before every election,” said Mary Ratliff, president of the local NAACP chapter. “So we can become informed on the issues, because a lot of our constituents become dependent upon us.”
The NAACP has long complained about racial profiling by officers in the Columbia Police Department and has lobbied for a citizen board to review formal complaints filed against the department.
A Police Department report to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office earlier this month showed that black people pulled over while driving in 2007 were far more likely than non-Hispanic white people to be searched and/or arrested. That annual report was consistent with those filed by the Police Department since 2000, Police Chief Randy Boehm said at the time.
Boehm denies his officers engage in racial profiling and said the numbers simply reflect the staffing patterns of police, who focus much of their efforts on the central city.
The NAACP, however, doesn’t buy Boehm’s argument.
Forum moderator Valerie Shaw asked the candidates Tuesday what they would do about racial profiling and whether they support the creation of a citizen oversight committee.
Incumbent First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton, who is seeking a fourth three-year term on the April 8 ballot, said police should take classes that train them to avoid profiling.
She and candidate Paul Sturtz both said they don’t believe all Columbia police officers are guilty of racial profiling but that the city must address the few who are.
“It is the same ones over and over,” Crayton said.
“I don’t believe that the majority of the police force are racist,” Sturtz said. “We do need to make accountable those few bad eggs so we can get past this.”
Candidate John Clark disagreed, saying there’s a need to change the culture of the entire department.
“I don’t believe it is a couple bad apples,” Clark said. “I believe it is a whole culture.”
The fourth candidate, Karen Baxter, said she doesn’t think legislation can prevent racial profiling.
“This isn’t something you can legislate. You have to teach this,” Baxter said. “We have to change the way we think in our relationships and our hearts.”
The candidates also discussed the idea of creating an independent review board for complaints about the Police Department. All four candidates support the review board, a unanimous stance that’s significant to the NAACP because it’s been working for years to establish one.