Police association endorses civilian oversight committee

Monday, April 21, 2008 | 10:35 p.m. CDT; updated 4:35 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Officers Association voiced support for civilian review of the Columbia Police Department and called for improved communication within the department in a news release issued Saturday.

Despite the call for a review, the same association — in the same news release — defended the Police Department against allegations of racism.

The Police Officers Association is a nonprofit organization that works to give Columbia police offers a unified voice and improve working conditions.

The news release was issued in response to an April 17 Missourian article that presented the results of a department report indicating discrepancies in how complaints were handled based on race.

The data show complaints by white citizens against Columbia police officers between 2005 and 2007 were about 10 times more likely to be found valid than complaints from black citizens during the same period.

“The Columbia Police Officers Association is offended that raw statistical data was equated with proof of racism,” Donald Weaver, president of the Columbia Police Officer Association, said in a press release.

Rex Campbell, co-chairman of the Citizen Oversight Committee, disagreed. He said that the data in the report is strengthened by citizen feedback, and racial profiling data show blacks are more likely than whites to be searched and arrested when stopped.

The police report of the statistical data was requested by the committee. “These statistics aren’t misleading,” Campbell said. “It’s part of a total package of information.”

The Citizen Oversight Committee is a group charged with familiarizing itself with the Police Department’s system of reviewing complaints and making a recommendation to the City Council on whether citizen oversight of the department is necessary.

Mayor Darwin Hindman formed the oversight committee in June 2007 in response to a year’s worth of public concern about the Police Department’s conduct towards citizens. The committee met for the first time Nov. 28, 2007.

The news release from the Police Officers Association uses data on deaths from lightning strikes to show how making conclusions based on raw data can be misleading.

According to the release, males account for 84 percent of lightning fatalities.

“Does this prove that lightning is, in fact, sexist? Perhaps instead, the data suggests merely that men participate in certain activities or place themselves in certain environments where lightning is more likely,” Weaver said in the release.

According to Weaver, he was not trying to discredit the report’s findings, but he said the report “appears damming,” but he wanted to show that statistical data cannot prove that officers within the department are racist.

“Some members of the Civilian Oversight Committee have found statistical data to justify their predetermined and prejudicial beliefs about the police,” Weaver said in the release.

Campbell said the Oversight Committee is not biased against the Police Department and includes a range of perspectives.

According to Campbell, the Columbia Police Department is negatively perceived by the community, but that can be fixed partly by civilian oversight.

Weaver said the Police Officers Association supports citizen review because internal investigations of officer conduct lack transparency and an appeals process.

In 2006, Aaron Thompson, a consultant with the Police Department, conducted research on the department’s internal affairs processes. In referencing the study, Weaver said, “Thompson found in his investigation that secrecy created a rift between the rank and file officer and the administration.”

Weaver said, in the news release, that there’s a problem in how the Police Department is structured. According to Weaver, absolute authority in internal investigations lies with Chief Randy Boehm.

“No matter how you structure internal affairs, at the end of the day you have one person making decisions without appeal,” he said.

Communication problems within the department are nothing new. According to Missourian reports in December 2006, the MU Center for the Study of Organizational Change found that leaders of the department “need to be more open to feedback” and that “retribution against employees for making recommendations must be viewed as unacceptable.”

Capt. Mike Martin, of the Columbia Police Department, said that the internal affairs process was developed with representatives from the Police Officers Association and that any disagreement they had with the policy could have been voiced.

“Chief (Boehm) stands steadfast that the internal affairs investigation process as it stands now meets the needs for transparency and answers,” Martin said. “There is no need for a civilian review board.”

Oversight Committee Co-chairman Jeffery Williams wants to make sure thorough research is conducted before any decision is made on whether to create the oversight system.

Williams said that though the committee is conscious of opinions from other organizations, the committee is charged with making the recommendation to the City Council.

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