COLUMBIA — A new police chief's main priority should be a commitment to increased community involvement, a group of Columbia citizens said at a meeting Thursday night.
Nine residents attended the city meeting led by management consultant Bob Slavin to discuss qualities of an ideal candidate to fill the vacancy left by former Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, who retired in July after 31 years with the Columbia Police Department. Tom Dresner is the interim police chief.
At the meeting, Slavin asked what kinds of qualities those in attendance wanted in a police chief and what issues the new chief should be aware of in the community.
John Clark of Columbia said he thought citizen's trust of police officers had declined in recent years and that the new chief should work to change that dynamic.
"I would look for someone who has the experience and commitment to implement community policing," he said. "Community policing works, but it's about beat police work."
He said that the new chief should be bold enough to ask the city for the necessary resources to put a community-based plan into action.
Columbia resident Robert Dover also said he thought that a new police chief should have a greater interest in community involvement, especially with younger people.
"I'd like to see someone who's interested in spending some of the budget on sending officers into the schools," he said, highlighting the importance of teaching young people how to safely be arrested to avoid police violence.
Paulette Hansen is a citizen-member of the Police Chief Advisory Committee and the former president of the Westwinds Park Neighborhood Association. She said police officers needed to have a better relationship with the court system to prevent people from being repeatedly arrested and released.
Margrace Buckler, human resources director for the city, said she was surprised, not only by the small turnout, but also by the low number of comments on the city's online forum, where there had been 12 responses as of Thursday. People interested in commenting on the police chief search may go to the city's Web site, gocolumbiamo.com, to submit comments until Sept. 22.
Representatives from Slavin Management Consultants will meet with the citizen-member Police Chief Advisory Committee on Friday morning to continue the discussion. Watkins said that after deciding what it is looking for in a chief, the city will start accepting applications and narrow the list down to three or four candidates to be brought to the public again. If all goes according to plan, he said, the city will name its new police chief by Jan. 1, 2009.