New group meets to promote police accountability, community improvement

Sunday, May 23, 2010 | 5:52 p.m. CDT; updated 7:32 p.m. CDT, Sunday, May 23, 2010

COLUMBIA — More than 20 Columbia residents gathered to protest police policies at the Daniel Boone Regional Library Sunday afternoon.

The newly formed CoMo Citizens group used its first meeting, held at Daniel Boone Regional Library, to discuss the Columbia Police Department's activity during the Feb. 11 SWAT raid.

The group focused its discussion on working with the police department — not against it — and what else can be done to change the Columbia Police Department's policies in the wake of the raid.

Attendees included Dan Viets, a local defense attorney and former chairman of the board of the mid-Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; MU students; and former mayoral candidate Sid Sullivan.

"This is not a cop-hating group," organizer Lindsi Tobkin said at the beginning of the meeting. "We're basically looking to advocate for integrity and accountability in the police department."

Sullivan agreed, saying the policy changes Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton promoted during a news conference on May 10 were "a real indictment of police business."

Police accountability was among the first issues on the list of the group's concerns.

"My immediate concern is just making sure these policy changes that Chief Burton has promised are binding," MU doctoral student Holly Henry said.

The discussion quickly became emotional, with attendees speaking over one another in an effort to voice differing opinions. The organizers had to stop the discussion a few times throughout the meeting to ask attendees to raise their hands before speaking.

The discussion about search warrants in particular resulted in a disagreement among group members, with some advocating the end to search warrants altogether for nonviolent crimes and some advocating a modification to search warrant policies.

"The execution of search warrants is inherently violent," Viets said during the meeting.

Viets said the use of search warrants should be avoided when investigating nonviolent crimes because "the execution of search warrants is inherently violent."

"Search warrants should be a last resort, not a first resort," he said.

Other attendees disagreed, saying search warrants themselves were not the problem in the raid.

"I think the violent tactics are a problem," Henry said.

Local public safety activist Mitchell Richards was most concerned with what he viewed to be the department's policy of "paramilitary policing." He said the officers in the February raid followed that policy despite having the choice not to do so.

"I think a huge part of this, these are still people, they still make a choice," Richards said. "It's still their choice to carry out a state-sponsored act of paramilitary policing."

Throughout the meeting, Tobkin was quick to point out that the group was not aimed at denouncing the police department or its officers.

"This is not an anti-law enforcement effort," Tobkin said.

Attendees agreed, pointing out that community improvement should be the group's goal.

"We need to take advantage of this opportunity and make sure we get a positive change for our community now," Henry said.

Henry also added, "I'm not so sure that it's Chief Burton that's the target here."

Toward the end of the meeting the group worked to finalize its goals and to set an agenda for following meetings. Among the goals were:

  • Establish contact with Burton
  • Make sure Burton follows through on his promise of reports about SWAT activity
  • Create a proposal to make the department's new policies more binding
  • Research and create a proposal about policies toward paid informants

Attendees also discussed the possibility of Burton attending one of the group's meetings. Many were hopeful about extending an invitation to the police chief.

CoMo Citizens plans to meet from 3 to 5 p.m. Sundays at the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

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Derrick Fogle May 24, 2010 | 1:11 a.m.

Sounds like a good start. It also appears that Sullivan is already planning to challenge McDavid again when his term is up.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush May 24, 2010 | 10:34 a.m.

Unfortunately, my work schedule won't allow me to attend these meetings, but I'm in full support of accountability, in general, and these goals, in specific.

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