COLUMBIA — After almost nine months of work, the citizen group tasked with creating a plan for civilian oversight of the Columbia Police Department approved a final report Thursday night to send to the City Council for review.
The report by the Citizen Oversight Committee will be revised and ready for distribution by Sept. 1, though it could be another month after that before the City Council is able to consider it, Committee Chair Rex Campbell said. If approved, the plan would create Columbia's first Citizens Police Review Board.
As envisioned by the committee, the board would be an independent and objective monitor of police conduct. In its report, the committee acknowledged the delicate balance the city must strike in creating such a board.
"A CRB can serve as the medium to ensure the public understands that their concerns are being addressed even though the CRB will not always find in their favor," the report states. "The police, on the other hand, need to have the confidence the CRB is fair and not anti-police."
Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman formed the Citizen Oversight Committee back in June 2007 in response to growing public concern over police conduct. The 15-member committee, charged with studying citizen review boards and making a recommendation to the City Council, met for the first time in November.
The committee's support for a civilian review board has been clear since June 27, when it voted unanimously in support of the idea. But it wasn't until Thursday's meeting that the details of such a plan were finalized.
In the sometimes contentious meeting, committee members haggled over the final details of the report. Arguments occasionally broke down along racial lines, with the committee's white and black members disagreeing over the choice of certain words; "minority" and "unanimous" proved especially troublesome.
The committee also argued over the interpretation of police data. A report released to the committee in April found significant disparities by race in how complaints were handled by police. Complaints of misconduct made by white residents between 2005 and 2007 were about 10 times more likely to be found valid than complaints made by black residents, according to the study. And even when black residents' complaints were found valid, the offending officers were punished less severely than in cases of misconduct against white residents. Several of the black members of the committee wanted this information included in the report, while some white members argued that only raw data belonged in the report because they didn't think the numbers supported some of the assertions.
The committee eventually agreed on a final version, and the result is a 14-point plan to create the review board. The plan calls for a nine-member board, elected by City Council, and one ex officio non-voting member, most likely the chief of police.
Under the plan, the board would be responsible for improving the lines of communication between the police and the community; hearing appeals from citizens and officers unhappy with the results of internal Police Department investigations; reviewing police policies, procedures and training; and preparing reports on the overall performance of the department.
Campbell expects to present the committee's findings to City Council on Oct. 1.