COLUMBIA — The City Council will likely announce at its meeting Monday the eight members it has chosen for the Citizens Police Review Board.
On Saturday morning, the council took the latest step in the long process of creating the board, interviewing in quick succession 17 of the 18 candidates. A final candidate will be interviewed Monday at the pre-council meeting.
Each applicant was interviewed for 15 minutes and answered one question from each council member and Mayor Darwin Hindman. The questions were consistent throughout the interviews and mostly addressed why the candidates wanted to be a part of the board and what qualified them to serve.
Between interviews, council members commented on how impressed they were with the group of potential board members.
“I think we have a lot of well-qualified candidates,” Hindman said at the end of the day. “The council has got some tough decisions to make.”
Narrowed down from an initial list of 49 people, the remaining candidates are: Stephen Alexander, Peter Goodman, Kim Gorman, Robert Hibbs, Carroll Highbarger, Barbara Hodges, Veronica Jenkins, Andy Lee, Ellen LoCurto-Martinez, James Martin, John McClure, John Roodhouse, Lowell Schoengarth, Susan Smith, Vincent St. Omer, Steve Weinberg, Barbara Willis and Betty Wilson.
The council will choose eight members for the board, and a ninth will be appointed by the Columbia Human Rights Commission. The board will be responsible for examining cases of alleged police misconduct where the internal affairs unit's decision has been appealed. Citizens and police officers involved will also be able to appeal decisions made by the board to the city manager.
The goal is to have the review board up and running by early 2010.
In Saturday’s interviews, the overwhelming majority of candidates said they applied for the board because they wanted the chance to improve relations between the Police Department and the community. They said the board would make the review process more transparent and therefore encourage greater public trust. Many candidates also said the goal was not to punish the Police Department but to strengthen it by increasing public support.
“We need to not be snarling dogs looking over the Police Department’s shoulder, but at least let them know that we will be fair and just,” said McClure, a coordinator of adult education and literacy with Columbia Public Schools.
On a similar note, many candidates said they thought their role also would be to educate residents so they understand why certain decisions are made. They said that although their decisions will always leave someone unhappy, they hope the parties involved will at least understand and respect the process.
“The main goal is for people to feel a fair hearing has been had,” said Schoengarth, a doctor with Columbia Eye Consultants Optometry.
To ensure that the process is fair, several candidates said they would focus only on the evidence presented to them.
“I have no bone to pick with anyone,” said Willis, an intern coordinator at the MU Office of Service Learning. “I’ve never even had a parking ticket.”
It is still unclear what the training for board members will be or how exactly the board will function. As several council members said throughout the interviews, this is the city’s first attempt at creating a police review board.
Many of those decisions will therefore be left for the board to settle internally, Hindman said.
Hindman said training would likely include topics suggested by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Police Chief Ken Burton is attending the association's conference to learn about those standards, Hindman said. There’s also a new citizens' academy the Police Department is developing that will be one component of the training.