COLUMBIA — After much heated discussion at a meeting Thursday night, the Citizen Oversight Committee decided to vote on June 26 whether to establish a permanent watchdog panel for the Columbia Police Department. This Citizen Review Board would improve communication between the citizens of Columbia and the police force.
But committee members continue to harbor serious differences over how to interpret data the panel has been presented, especially a report presented by committee member Jeff Milyo. A professor of economics at MU, Milyo presented a report Thursday night, the statistics of which he himself said “might seem counter-intuitive.”
Focused on providing descriptions as opposed to conclusions, the point of the presentation was that one cannot simply jump to racial profiling as the reason for the disparity in data involving traffic stops and complaints about police in Columbia. Milyo’s report seemed to suggest no pattern of discrimination by police in traffic stops or in their handling of citizen complaints.
Wynna Faye Elbert disputed the findings, saying that she hears a different story from the black community in Columbia. “There’s a lot of mistrust of the police in the black community,” she said.
The 15-member committee has been meeting about twice a month since November. As has been the case at many of its meetings, few members of the public have attended. Thursday night’s meeting drew an audience of three, not including the media. Thirteen committee members were present.
The committee’s next meeting will be June 12, when the Columbia Police Department will present its interpretation of the same Internal Affairs complaint data that the committee has been reviewing.
Committee member Diane Booth said, “This has been a very difficult decision to make because people view data through different prisms.”
If the panel votes on June 26 to recommend that a Citizen Review Board be created, it’s up to the City Council to approve it.