Final member of Citizens Police Review Board announced

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 | 9:42 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — With the ninth and final member of the Citizens Police Review Board announced Tuesday night, the city must now hammer out the details of how the board will function.

The Columbia Human Rights Commission selected Mary Bixby, the vice chairwoman of the commission and a representative of the Fourth Ward, to serve on the board. The other eight board members were chosen by the City Council earlier the same day.

Citizens Police Review Board members

Here are the nine members of the Citizens Police Review Board. Unless otherwise specified, quotations are from board applications. Term lengths were decided by number of votes received.

Stephen Alexander received four council votes and will serve a two-year term. Alexander is a biological sciences professor at MU.

  • Alexander: “The Citizens Police Review Board will be faced with challenging and complex issues and will need to make well-reasoned decisions in an efficient manner. I believe that the management and problem-solving skills developed in my professional life can be applied directly to these issues.”

Mary Bixby was appointed by the Columbia Human Rights Commission and will serve a one-year term.

Carroll Highbarger received four council votes and will serve a two-year term. Highbarger is a former deputy police chief with the Columbia Police Department and is an adjunct online criminal justice instructor at Columbia College.

  • Highbarger: “My experience … gives me a unique understanding of the importance of trust, fairness and a positive relationship between citizens and the Columbia Police Department.”

Ellen LoCurto-Martinez received four council votes and will serve a two-year term. LoCurto-Martinez served on the Citizen Oversight Committee, which researched citizen review boards and recommended the creation of the board for Columbia.

  • LoCurto-Martinez: “I believe that someone from the original committee would be a valuable resource for the CRB, especially in its formative years.”

James Martin received six council votes and will serve a four-year term. Martin is retired from a career serving in federal and state government.

  • Martin: “(I applied) to serve my community and help ensure fair and impartial treatment of all citizens.”

John McClure received five council votes and will serve a three-year term. McClure is the coordinator of adult education and literacy for Columbia Public Schools and serves on boards for the Phoenix House and Minority Men’s Network.

  • McClure: “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.” (spoken in an interview with the council)

Susan Smith received five council votes and will serve a three-year term. Smith is an adjunct professor at Columbia College and a former prosecutor in Indiana.

  • Smith: “It’s important that each side understands the other. We need to respect the community and also respect the demands on law enforcement.” (spoken to the council)

Steve Weinberg received five council votes and will serve a three-year term. Weinberg is a part-time faculty member at MU and co-founder of the Midwestern Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to the innocent in prison.

  • Weinberg: “Effective policing is based on two-way trust. I hope to cement that trust.”

Betty Wilson received six council votes and will serve a four-year term. Wilson has been involved in several city and state commissions and is a partner in the law firm of Oliver, Walker, Wilson LLC.

  • Wilson: “I have wide long term contacts and positive working relationships with diverse segments in the community, various ethnic groups, age groups and gender categories as well as an appreciation for the responsibilities of the police.”

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The board will provide independent civilian oversight of the Columbia Police Department for the first time in the city’s history. It will review certain cases of actual or perceived police misconduct with the goal of increasing police accountability and community trust in police.

“We’re only going to get one shot at this,” said Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, echoing the sentiment of many involved in the process. “If this is successful, we’re going to go a long way to improving relations between the community and the Police Department.”

But before that can happen, the council, board and department must work together to craft a detailed set of rules and responsibilities for the board, several people involved in the process said. In July, the council unanimously approved an ordinance that created the review board, but the law provided few specific details on how the board will operate.

According to the ordinance, the board will be responsible for examining cases of alleged police misconduct where the final decision of the police chief has been appealed by a police officer or citizen involved in the dispute.

If the board’s findings differed from those of Police Chief Ken Burton, he would have 10 business days to reconsider the original decision and either reaffirm or modify it. The officer and citizen also could appeal decisions made by the board to the city manager.

The next step is for the council to meet with Burton, who attended a conference of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement last weekend, Skala said. The guidelines recommended by that association will play an important role in the training and standards of Columbia’s review board. Many decisions also will be left for the board to settle internally.

The goal remains to have the board up and running by early 2010, but Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade cautioned against rushing the training process.

“I think they’ve got to still move slow and deliberate and make sure we get it right,” Wade said. After Mayor Darwin Hindman created the Citizen Oversight Committee in 2007, the city took more than two years to plan for the review board.

Several new board members said they were hopeful for what the board could accomplish but unsure what the next steps would be.

Steve Weinberg, a part-time journalism professor at MU and co-founder of the Midwestern Innocence Project, said it would be up to the board members to familiarize themselves with the ordinance and the issues at hand. Betty Wilson, a partner in the law firm of Oliver, Walker, Wilson LLC, agreed that preparation will be crucial, but said she hopes the board doesn’t “get a lot of business.”

One of the key issues in designing the board was deciding who would be eligible to serve. 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 should reflect the cultural and racial diversity of Columbia.” Of the eight people the council selected, there are three women and five men; four white members, three black members and one Hispanic member; and one resident of the First Ward, two residents of the Second Ward, two residents of the Fourth Ward, two residents of the Fifth Ward and one resident of the Sixth Ward.

The group was chosen from an initial list of 49 applicants. Council members said they were looking for candidates who could analyze evidence and make objective decisions. Skala said the two qualities that were most important to him were intelligence and “judicial temperament.”

“Now we have a superb set of qualified people and we just have to get them to begin to come together,” Wade said.

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