COLUMBIA — The Columbia Citizen Oversight Committee voted unanimously Thursday night to recommend that City Council establish a citizen review board to oversee the process by which the Columbia Police Department handles complaints.
The committee was formed by Mayor Darwin Hindman in June 2007 and has been meeting since Nov. 28, 2007.
Co-committee chair Rex Campbell said he anticipated the outcome, though the unanimous vote was unexpected.
“I was surprised,” he said. “I thought there might be one or two dissenters. I am pleased.”
Yet Thursday’s decision is just the beginning of the process to establish a review board. The oversight committee has designated models for a subcommittee to investigate. These models are based on examples of other police review boards nationwide, and the subcommittee will evaluate them to gauge which components should be implemented.
Co-chairman Jefferey Williams said the committee is still concerned about how to improve transparency, communication and trust.
“I’m encouraged with the unanimous vote and that everyone felt that there were reasons to take the next step,” Williams said. “We want to build a public trust and work to build a relationship between the police and the community.”
The models subcommittee will spend the next five weeks outlining a framework for the Columbia Police Department’s citizen review board.
The Citizen Oversight Committee’s unanimous approval highlights differences in opinions previously expressed by members of the police department.
At the June 12 committee meeting, Capt. Mike Martin, who is in charge of the professional standards division, said that he was not opposed to the idea of external review.
“I don’t have any problem handing the investigation file over to someone else to take a look at,” Martin said.
Yet Martin also stated that former police chief Randy Boehm held a different view.
“Chief Boehm stands steadfast that the internal affair investigation process as it stands now meets the needs for transparency and answers,” said Martin at the June 12 meeting.
About a half-dozen residents of Columbia and Boone County attended the meeting. Some said they were pleased with the committee’s progress.
“I’m happy about tonight,” said Khesha Duncan, a Columbia resident who attended the meeting. “It’s a long time coming. This will be a good tool to start bridging the gaps.”
Others were focused on what kind of review board will ultimately be recommended to the City Council.
“I’m pleased that they are moving forward in drafting a model,” said Columbia attendee Pat Fowler. “I hope that they take into account a review in police procedure, especially for those citizens who don’t feel that their complaints are being handled by the police.”
The Oversight Committee is scheduled to meet Aug. 7 to review outlines that have been compiled by the models subcommittee.
“It’s going to be a long, arduous road,” Campbell said. “Now we are going to fight over the words and the structure of the board, but it will come to a fruitful end.”