Columbia police chief search down to two candidates

Friday, January 30, 2009 | 7:01 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The search for the Columbia police chief is down to two: Kansas City Police Major Christine Laughlin and Haltom City (Texas) Police Chief Kenneth Burton, City Manager Bill Watkins said Friday.

The announcement was made after Watkins met with members of the citizen-staffed Police Chief Advisory Committee in a closed meeting at the Daniel Boone City Building.

Although all four candidates have unique strengths and are qualified to become police chief, Laughlin, 50, and Burton, 53, were better-suited to work with the Police Department and community, Watkins said.  

“Based on their interviews and the public feedback we received, we believe Laughlin and Burton are better fits for the community,” Watkins said.

At Friday’s meeting, Watkins talked with the citizen advisory committee about the two finalists' credentials and answered questions about their backgrounds. There was a consensus among committee members that Burton and Laughlin would be the best-suited for the job, even though the committee didn’t take a vote, Watkins said.

Over the next few weeks, the two finalists will travel to Columbia to be given a more in-depth interview, talk with members of the Police Department, including Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner, as well as various community organizations, before a police chief is finally chosen, Watkins said. He would not give a time line or deadline for his decision.  

Laughlin said Watkins called her Thursday and made it clear she would be a finalist for the job. Burton said he didn’t find out he was a finalist until he read the press release issued by Watkins' office but was “99 percent sure” he was one of the two finalists. Burton and his wife, Linda, are in Columbia for the weekend to look at houses. 

Both candidates said they would accept the job if they were offered the position.   

Laughlin has worked in the Kansas City Police Department since 1983 and as major since 2004. In her current position as major, she oversees several departments, including a patrol division that serves an area of Kansas City with a high crime rate, and says her experience has prepared her for a possible job as police chief.

“This would be a great opportunity for me to work with the citizens and the officers to make Columbia an even better community,” Laughlin said.

Burton has worked for several police departments in Texas since 1977. He has served as Haltom City police chief since 2003. Although Haltom City is about half the size of Columbia, Burton says his work in Arlington, which has a population of more than 300,000, and College Station, home of Texas A&M University, has prepared him for work in a large college town.

“This would be a good move for me career-wise. I want to be a major city police chief, and Columbia fits that bill,” Burton said.

Between the two of them, they have about 58 years of experience. The man one of them will be replacing, former Police Chief Randy Boehm, retired in July after serving nearly 32 years in the Columbia Police Department. 

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