Police, Oversight Committee discuss first draft of review board ordinance

Thursday, April 2, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:14 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 2, 2009

COLUMBIA — Members of the Columbia Police Department, including Chief Kenneth Burton, and the Citizen Oversight Committee met Wednesday to discuss and re-write the first draft of an ordinance that would create an external review board of the Police Department.

Drafting the ordinance is one of the final steps in a process that has taken the committee nearly 16 months to complete.

Citizen Oversight Committee Tiimeline

  • Feb. 11, 2006  — Alva Scott, then 34, is arrested at the Columbia Mall and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
  • Sept. 18, 2006 — David Smith, Scott's attorney proposes an ordinance to Columbia City Council that would have created a citizens review board. Smith is later chosen to serve on the oversight committee.
  • Nov. 2, 2006 — Bill Watkins recommends the council vote against a civilian review board saying that such an ordinance “would be like trying to kill a mosquito with a 50-pound sledge hammer.”
  • December 2006 — A study by the MU Center for the Study of Organized Complaints determines that “leader of the department needs to be more open to feedback and more transparent.”
  • Jan. 16, 2007 — Aaron Thompson, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University, is hired to review the Columbia Police Department’s internal affairs process.
  • May 7, 2007 — Thompson presents his findings to the council. Thompson recommends that the Police Department be overhauled for the first time in 20 years.
  • June 2007 — Mayor Darwin Hindman creates the Citizen Oversight Committee.
  • Nov. 28, 2007 — The Citizen Oversight Committee meets for the first time and begins gathering information to determine whether the Police Department needs an external review board.
  • Feb. 1, 2008 — The Police Department creates the Professional Standards Unit to handle all internal affairs processes.
  • March 13 to April 17, 2008 — The Citizen Oversight Committee holds five public forums to hear citizens’ concerns about the Police Department’s responsiveness to the community.
  • April 17, 2008 — The Missourian reports that an oversight committee study finds a racial disparity between white and black citizens on how complaints are investigated by police. Committee chairman Rex Campbell says he suspects “aversive terms of racism” in the department.
  • April 21, 2008 — Columbia Police Officers Association endorses external oversight of the Police Department.
  • May 13, 2008 — Chief Randy Boehm announces he will retire from the Police Department and take a job with MU Health Care.
  • May 17, 2008 — Capt. Mike Martin announces his retirement after 23 years.
  • June 27, 2008 — The Citizen Oversight Committee voted unanimously to recommend external oversight to the police department.
  • June 30, 2008 — Martin retires.
  • July 1, 2008 — Boehm retires.
  • Aug. 22, 2008 — The Citizen Oversight Committee finalizes its report and recommends oversight board creation.
  • Oct. 6, 2008 — Rex Campbell and  Jeff Williams, co-chairmen of the Citizen Oversight Committee, present the committee's final report to  the council.

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"This draft is a basic skeleton that needs more fine tuning," Rex Campbell, the committee's chairman, said after the meeting. 

The ordinance will draw almost exclusively from the oversight committee's final report which concluded that external oversight of the department was necessary.

Under the current draft, the review board would be staffed by eight voting members appointed by the Columbia City Council. Board members must be Columbia residents and cannot be employed by the city or hold public office. They would also need to reflect the cultural and racial diversity of Columbia. The chief of police and a member of the Commission on Human Rights would be nonvoting members.

Ideally, the review board will work as a sort of appeals court, Campbell said.

If a person who filed a complaint with the department is not satisfied with the department's internal investigation, he or she would be able to appeal to the review board. 

The review board would then conduct its own investigation and provide a recommendation for action to the city manager, who would ultimately decide how to handle the situation and determine what, if any, punishment an officer would receive.

"A person who feels they have been aggrieved by the Police Department need a place to go," committee member Chris Egbert said.

All of the review board's meetings, hearings and records would be open to the public.

Burton said he supports a review board and was only concerned that the board be fair and protect the rights of both citizens and officers.

"We serve the city of Columbia," Burton said. "If citizens want an oversight board, they should have one."

Burton voiced concerns about ensuring that officers are given due process throughout the complaint and appeals process.

One of the major concerns committee members had about the current draft was the nature of the police officers' appeals process. If the police chief or city manager decides to punish an officer for misconduct, the officer would be able to appeal the decision to the city's personnel advisory board, which currently hears grievances from city employees. All of its meetings are closed to the public.

A few committee members feared that this could potentially circumvent the oversight board's investigative process and make the board unable to effectively monitor the Police Department.   

The review board would hold public meetings monthly where it would hear the public's concerns about the police. Board members would also be required to create educational programs for Columbia residents and police officers at their meetings.

They would also prepare annual reports for the council assessing the overall performance of the Police Department and provide recommendations to fix problems with police procedure and policy.

At the end of the meeting Burton praised the oversight committee, but made it clear he would have his perspective heard.

"I appreciate all the work you guys have done, and I respect what you're trying to do," Burton said. "But you know I'm an opinionated guy, it's nothing personal."

"Well, we're not exactly shrinking violets," committee member Diane Booth said. 

Burton said he hoped that a review board wouldn't be necessary in two or three years but said if it was, he would support it for as long as such oversight was necessary.

"I'm concerned about the sentiment that says an oversight board is needed," Burton said. "I hope to overcome that in my tenure."

Amendments to the draft ordinance will be made over the next month. The committee and police administrators plan to meet again on May 1 to continue working out the details of the new oversight board.

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