UPDATE: City Council tables Police Review Board proposal

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | 12:11 a.m. CDT; updated 11:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Columbia Police Officer Jill Wieneke, left, and Eric Dearmont, executive director of the Columbia Police Officers Association, present police concerns with the Citizens Police Review Board at a special City Council meeting on Monday.

COLUMBIA — The City Council decided to table the issue of creating a Citizens Police Review Board after nearly four hours of public comments and questions at a special  meeting Monday night.

While many residents and the Citizen Oversight Committee pushed for a Citizens Police Review Board, they said they were OK with the council's decision.

Citizen Oversight Committee member Wynna Elbert said she would rather have the council take time to get all of the bugs worked out instead of rushing into anything and trying to fix problems later.

Columbia resident Addae Ahmad said he is optimistic about the eventual establishment of a Citizens Police Review Board, but he thinks passing the ordinance at the meeting Monday night would have been acting too quickly.

Ahmad said the police raised valid concerns and he knows there will be changes made to the draft presented to the council at the meeting. However, Ahmad said he hopes the changes won't weaken the effectiveness of the board.

Citizen Oversight Commitee Chairman Rex Campbell opened the meeting by discussing the report given to the council concerning the review board. He said the committee spent nearly two years researching the idea, but the concept isn't new.

"You're not inventing the wheel here tonight," Campbell said.

Campbell said the committee researched the issue by talking to local interest groups and members of the Columbia Police Department. Campbell said the report presented to the City Council was unanimously supported by the committee.

Following Campbell's speech, Assistant City Manager Paula Hertwig-Hopkins discussed who would be responsible for reviewing complaints made by Columbia residents. The complaint would first go to the department's Professional Standards Unit. From there, complaints would be reviewed by the police chief and the review board.

If residents want to appeal the decision, they are able to appeal to the city manager. If police officers want to appeal the decision, they are able to appeal to the department's Personnel Advisory Board.

Columbia Police Officers' Association Vice President Jill Wieneke said the group is very concerned about the membership qualifications for the board. Wieneke also questioned the investigative role of the board. The board may request that the city manager contract with an independent investigator to assist the board.

"If the people on this board aren't investigators, what are they?" Wieneke said.

Other issues raised at the meeting were issues of police representation on the board, the board's subpoena power and training for board members.

According to the proposed legislation, the police chief or the police chief's designee would attend monthly meetings as an informational source for the board.

Citizen Oversight Committee member David Smith said he voted against having the chief on the board. Smith said the chief's presence would create a trust problem for everyone involved in the board.

"It's all about perception," Smith said. If the chief is on the board, it creates the perception the board isn't independent, Smith said.

Smith also said he thinks it's important for the board to have subpoena power. He said it will allow the committee to do its job.

American Civil Liberties Union member Carolyn Matthews said giving the board subpoena power will help residents by requiring witnesses to be present during the process.

Many who spoke at Monday's meeting discussed the need for trust in the police department. Local attorney John Clark said the board is "really about the trust."

Citizen Oversight Committee member Chris Egbert said the board would serve as an ambassador from the public to the police and offer the chance for transparency.

Officer John Gordon said he would like the council to consider giving newlyappointed Police Chief Kenneth Burton the chance to run the Police Department first. However, he said he would like the council to consider standards set by a national police oversight association if it adopted the ordinance.

After the public hearings, Mayor Darwin Hindman and other council members discussed the issues raised during the meeting. The council decided to table the issue until its July 20 meeting.

Hindman said he isn't sure if the delay would be enough time for the council to work through the issues, but the council wants to get moving.

"Expect some changes to be made to the ordinance as a result of tonight's public input," Hindman said.

Missourian reporter Jim Holt contributed to this report.

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