COLUMBIA — The two finalists for Columbia police chief, Kansas City Police Major Christine Laughlin and Police Chief Kenneth Burton of Haltom City, Texas, plan on getting more familiar with the community they might begin to serve in the coming weeks.
Burton, who visited Columbia for the first time in January for an early round of interviews, said he was "99 percent sure" he would be named a finalist for the position. He and his wife Linda were in Columbia over the weekend looking at houses.
"I didn't want to count my chickens before they hatched, but I was confident enough to plan a trip through the weekend to look at real estate with my wife," Burton said.
Laughlin said she is very familiar with Columbia — her parents own a 50-acre ranch outside of Ashland.
"I have been in Columbia every weekend for the last 10 years," Laughlin said.
Laughlin's experience within Missouri would be considered, but not necessarily give her an advantage over Burton, City Manager Bill Watkins said.
The finalists were narrowed from four after Watkins met with members of the citizen-staffed Police Chief Advisory Committee in a closed meeting at the Daniel Boone City Building on Friday.
Although all four candidates each had unique strengths and were 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, and 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 timeline or deadline for his decision.
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.
The new police chief will be replacing former Police Chief Randy Boehm, who retired in July after serving nearly 32 years in the Columbia Police Department.