COLUMBIA — The association that represents Columbia’s police officers expressed concerns with its lack of involvement in the development of a citizen review board. The association also took exception to some provisions in the working draft of the board’s make up.
The Columbia Citizen Oversight Committee last month voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council establish the review board to oversee the process by which the Columbia Police Department handles complaints.
In a statement released Monday, the Columbia Police Officers Association condemned the possibility of convicted felons and criminals being eligible to serve on the review board as allowed by the current draft.
This issue surfaced recently in the committee that will help select Columbia’s new police chief. One of the 17 members selected by City Manager Bill Watkins to serve on the Police Chief Advisory Committee is a convicted felon.
Darrell Foster, 57, was convicted of four felonies in 1998 — unlawful use of a weapon, harassment, felonious restraint and first-degree child endangerment — according to Missouri Case.net.
CPOA President Donald Weaver said the situation with Foster is an example of what he wants to avoid on the citizen review board. In the most recent draft, those with felony convictions that are at least 10 years old would be eligible to serve on the review board, and there are no provisions for background investigations.
“People with felony convictions have been arrested and prosecuted and often harbor deep-seeded resentment for the police,” Weaver said. “It’s flawed and absurd that that perspective is at all valuable in any capacity in advising or judging the police.”
Citizen Oversight Committee Chairman Rex Campbell said those who have been arrested could bring a fresh perspective to the board.
“The feeling is when you’re convicted of a felony you give up certain rights,” Campbell said. “But often times a person who’s been through the process may have some insight that someone else doesn’t.”
Offering a different perspective of police conduct is what Foster said he brings to his position on the Police Chief Advisory Committee. “They got a guy who knows how police treat people, how they should treat people and what’s good for the community,” Foster said.
He said the same would go for the citizen review board.
“Anytime a person gets back into the mainstream of society and demonstrates they want to be an asset of the community, we cannot disenfranchise people,” he said.
Committee Co-Chairman Jeff Williams said a felony conviction shouldn’t be too much of a concern if it is “significantly in the past.”
Campbell said Foster’s situation shouldn’t be a concern because the citizen review board would be appointed differently than the Police Chief Advisory Committee.
“In one case, the city manager named the people,” Campbell said, referring to the advisory committee. “In this case, (the review board) will be decided by the City Council, voted on by each and every person.”
Campbell also said that the current provision was not set up with the intent to allow felons onto the board, but rather to exclude those with recent convictions.
Another concern of the officers association is that police have not yet been invited to participate on the development process of the review board, Weaver said.
Without proper input from the association, Weaver said, he’s “doubtful that they will be able to put together a board that works and that adequately addresses the concerns of everyone.”
Although the officers association has not actively participated in the committee’s recommendations, Campbell said police have provided input. “Any person who sends us something, we’ll look into it,” Campbell said. “CPOA is an important group. When we get a draft together we’ll send it to all organizations for their input.”
Campbell said though he appreciated the comments and concerns, “it’s not something new” to the committee. He said the subcommittee of the Citizen Oversight Committee, which is drafting the proposal, will take much longer and that the subcommittee is still debating many items.
Committee member Joseph Carrier said any comments on a draft proposal are “premature.”
The oversight committee is scheduled to meet Aug. 7 to review outlines that have been compiled by the models subcommittee.
The most recent draft of the plan to establish the board can be found on the city’s Web site, gocolumbiamo.com.