Council to interview final candidates for police review board positions

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:33 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 9, 2009

COLUMBIA — With the passing of last Friday’s application deadline for the Citizens Police Review Board, the City Council must now narrow down a list of 49 applicants to a final eight.

Each council member will first select 15 potential board members, which the council decided Tuesday evening at a pre-council meeting. The council will then compare the lists and choose 15 to 20 final candidates to interview.

“I don’t think it’s logistically reasonable to interview each applicant,” Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said. Council members should receive the applications and criminal background checks later this week.

The nine-person review board will be responsible for examining cases of alleged police misconduct where the internal affairs unit's decision has been appealed. The council will choose eight members, and a ninth will be appointed by the Columbia Human Rights Commission. Members will serve three-year terms.

The city received more applicants than normal for openings, but not more than expected, several people involved in the process said.

“That is a high number, but it is also a new board,” City Clerk Sheela Amin said. She said the amount of publicity and interest in the issue probably motivated people to apply.

Applicants included professors, teachers, attorneys, retired military and law enforcement officials, health care workers, business owners and more.

According to the ordinance that created the review board, members must be residents of Columbia and registered voters. They may not be employed by the city, be a party in any pending litigation against the city, be an elected public officeholder or a candidate for elected public office.

Most applicants expressed a desire to improve relations between the community and the Police Department. Several have attended citizen police academies.

John Roodhouse, a former Boone County assistant prosecuting attorney, said in an interview that he believes community involvement is important in all aspects of the criminal justice system. He thinks the board can be an extension of that community involvement, and he hopes it can serve as a forum where the community and police  participate in open discussions.

Many applicants also stressed the importance of impartiality for board members.

“I believe that citizens are right to expect a high level of professional conduct by our police force,” C. Leon Krueger, a special educator at West Junior High School, wrote in his application. “I also believe that our police are entitled to public support when they act on our behalf in accordance with existing statutes, established procedures and professional judgment based on training and experience.”

The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance that established the Citizens Police Review Board on July 20. The goal then was to have the board up and running by the start of 2010. However, because of the high number of applicants and the extensive training members will have to undergo, the start date could get pushed back to February, First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said.

“The training is an indication of the amount of sensitivity that this board is being treated with and of the importance of the board,” Sturtz said.

New board members will be trained on the department internal affairs unit’s operating policies and procedures and will participate in a ride along with police officers, according to the ordinance. Training will also include topics suggested by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

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