COLUMBIA — The Citizens Police Review Board has yet to receive its first case, and some members are concerned the delay is because the public doesn’t understand the board’s role.
The board met on Wednesday for training, and members also discussed how to improve the board's public perception.
Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez said she hopes there haven’t been any cases presented yet because citizens haven’t had any complaints against the Columbia Police Department. But other members are worried that cases haven’t been filed because citizens don’t understand the process.
At the meeting, board member John McClure said he had received a phone call at home from a citizen asking to have a case reviewed. McClure explained to the caller that the board’s role starts after a complaint has already been filed with the Police Department.
Members discussed holding presentations for the public and local students about how the review process works.
“We need to make ourselves available,” board member Stephen Alexander said. “If people don’t understand how we work, they won’t come.”
The board is also recruiting volunteer complainant advocates to help assist with the filing process.
Betty Wilson, another board member, said she was concerned the public believes the board is working too closely with the Police Department. The board has been training with members of the department while it waits for a case.
“From what comments I’ve heard from the public, they only understand the police side of our training,” Wilson said. “From the public’s perception, we need to show some balance.”
So far, most of the training has been provided by the Police Department.
“We have to hear about the police side because that’s what we’ll be judging,” Alexander said.
Members have accompanied police officers on duty to see how patrol works and observe officers’ responses to situations that occurred.
Board members also visited a new police training facility to try out the firearms simulator. The interactive system simulates an incident in which an officer is forced to react in split-second decisions. It allows supervisors to see if the officer responds appropriately.
“The machine was kind of like a video game,” LoCurto-Martinez said. “It was the most active presentation we’ve had.”
Guidelines created by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement encourage police training, but also say civilian review groups should turn to organizations outside the Police Department for further education.
Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight was present at Wednesday’s meeting to educate the board about court proceedings.
After Knight’s presentation, the board discussed setting up training sessions with organizations outside law enforcement.
Officer Jessie Haden, a spokeswoman for the department, said outside training is important for the board.
“We didn’t want them to feel biased, or the public to feel they were biased, or even create the perception that there was a bias,” Haden said.