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Columbia's new police chief says he's ready to look for solutions

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:30 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Columbia City Clerk Sheela Amin, right, administers the oath of office to the new Columbia Police Department police chief, Kenneth Burton, at the City Council Chamber on Monday. Burton said he will work to make the Police Department more citizen-focused and friendly.

COLUMBIA — New Police Chief Kenneth Burton received a warm welcome from the community and fellow Columbia police officers at his official swearing in on Monday evening.

"(It's) good to know that you are behind me, and I'm going to need every one of you to do this job," said newly appointed Chief Burton to the officers at the ceremony.

Kenneth M. Burton

Age: 53

Experience:

  • 1999-2001: deputy police chief, Arlington, Texas (population 60,000)
  • 2001-03: police chief, Bryan, Texas (population 60,000)
  • 2003-09: police chief, Haltom City, Texas (population 40,000)

Education: bachelor's degree in law enforcement and police science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, 1977


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Also present at Burton's swearing in was Mayor Darwin Hindman, City Manager Bill Watkins, the City Council and numerous city officials and citizens.

Burton was the police chief for six years in Haltom City, Texas, and has replaced Columbia Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner, who took over the position in June 2008 after the retirement of Randy Boehm.

"I feel great for a number of reasons," Dresner said of Burton's new position appointment. "I think Ken is a great guy. I think he was the most engaging (of the candidates) with the most desire to reach out on a whole new level with the community."

Burton's first day in office started Monday a little before 8 a.m. While serving as police chief, Burton will deal with other city departments to focus on the "bigger picture" of policies and the general direction of the department.

"We want to look for long-term solutions ... for the issues that are affecting your life," Burton said as he addressed the crowd. He went on to emphasize the importance of positive "customer service," describing citizens as customers who deserve good service from the department.

Burton also mentioned "getting down to the neighborhood level" and looking at crime from the citizens' perspective.

"By his actions so far, I'm impressed," said David Thomas, Columbia resident and father of Columbia Police Officer Molly Bowden who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2005.

"We're very excited," said Captain Zim Schwartze about Burton's appointment. "I think he will be able to handle it very well. He seemed to have a little bit of experience in those areas we are already dealing with."

One of the major ongoing issues the department is facing is the use of Tasers by Columbia police officers. The department's policy came under scrutiny after a Taser was used on a man threatening to throw himself off an Interstate 70 overpass in July 2008. The Police Department recently submitted its Taser policy to the Police Executive Research Forum for review. Columbia’s policy currently includes 14 of the 52 listed policy guidelines recommended by group.

"Any tool we can give a police officer that is less than deadly is a valuable tool," Burton said of Tasers. "I'm going to make sure that our officers are properly trained. I don't want them having to think." Burton emphasized the high level of knowledge he wants officers to have when using equipment such as Tasers. 

This month, the department has also been accused of improper treatment of a citizen by police. Former MU basketball player Willie Smith has formally pressed charges against the Columbia Police Department for an incident that occurred in early March involving the use of “excessive force during an arrest,” according to Smith’s attorney.

"Mistreatment of citizens is never acceptable," said Burton of the issue of police interaction with Columbians. "When you do use force, you want it to be justified."


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