Applications the next step for police review board

Friday, July 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — With the City Council's approval of the Citizens Police Review Board on Monday night, the task turns to finding citizens to serve on the board.

The first step in that process will be announcing and accepting applications for the eight open board positions. A ninth board member will be appointed from the Commission on Human Rights. Toni Messina, public communications director for the city, said that the application process for the review board will probably be similar to that of other city boards.

“We don’t know when the deadline is yet,” Messina said. “The council will review applications, may decide to interview people and then make selections.”

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said the indication he received from the city clerk is that the city will be soliciting applications very soon.

"We would like to take applications as quick as possible," he said. Skala said he doesn't think applicants will need to submit anything beyond the general application, which the city makes available on its Web site. People can submit resumes and curricula, and the council will look at all of that, he said.

Skala also said it might take more time than it normally does to fill other board seats, "because I expect it will be a pretty thorough examination process." He also said they don't know how many applications the council will receive, and they're filling more vacant seats than normal.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said he hopes the board will be up and running by Jan. 1, 2010, but he couldn't provide a definite timeline for the process.

This latest step in the process comes more than two years after Mayor Darwin Hindman created the Citizen Oversight Committee to examine possibilities for a review board. In that time the committee heard from the Police Department, community groups, residents and other cities that had implemented review boards.

The end result was a revised ordinance that not only outlines how the review board will work, but also who can serve on the board. The ordinance states members will serve without compensation, must be residents of Columbia and registered voters, must not have a serious criminal record and must not be employed by the city or be an elected office holder.

The ordinance also states that the board members must reflect the cultural and racial diversity of Columbia.

Rex Campbell, who served as co-chair of the Citizen Oversight Committee, said that good candidates for the board should “not have any grudge against police or any other group, be balanced and have many characteristics of a judge.”

Citizen Oversight Committee member Diane Booth said, "We (the Citizen Oversight Committee) did the work with openness and civility. Its important that it moves forward that way, with openness and civility."

Wade said members need to be people who can listen, look at the issues with unbiased eyes and make decisions based upon the facts of the case. "They need to be people who can ask insightful questions that get at the critical issues that come before them," he said.

Columbia Police Detective Jeff Westbrook said the changes the Police Department wanted to see have been implemented into the ordinance.

“While we feel we’ve done a good job with our internal review, we recognize citizens have been looking for more than that,” Westbrook said. “We are supportive of that and anxious to get started with (the review board).”

According to the review board ordinance, members selected for the board will be required to undergo orientation and training. They will have to learn Columbia Police Department policies and procedures, participate in a ride-along with police officers, and be trained on National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement standards.

Robert Ross, president of the Minority Men's Network, said he thinks that extensive training is not needed for members of the review board.

"I think it needs to be a person who has a passion and is concerned about citizens and how they are treated," he said.

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