LAKE OF THE OZARKS — Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton wants to change the culture of his department to make it more friendly to the public, he told the City Council on Friday morning during its annual retreat here at the Country Club Hotel. He said he also wants to add 20 people to the force at a time when city budget-makers are looking for ways to cut.
Burton said there is a traditional "we are the police, and you are the public" attitude among the officers on his force. He wants to make the department more community-oriented.
"We are the police, and we are the public," would be a more suitable culture, Burton said, adding that officers on patrol also should be asking themselves "Should I do this?" rather than "Can I do this?"
Burton also wants his officers to become more involved in crime prevention by reaching out to people, identifying risks and becoming more involved. That, he said, could offset the effects of recent budget cuts to the department's crime prevention unit.
Police are progressively trying to work with the community while protecting it, Burton said. Officers on patrol downtown, for example, are now wearing plain clothes so that patrons in bars and restaurants are more comfortable around them. He also cited changes in Taser policies designed to reduce the risk of injuries and the number of times they're used.
Officers should treat others as they would want to be treated, Burton said. Unfortunately, the chief said, that hasn't always been the case. He cited an incident last year in which an officer argued over the phone with a resident and refused to respond to an emergency. Burton hopes the Citizens' Police Review Board will help send a message that that type of attitude — and improper police service in general — is unacceptable.
Burton said there have been other issues of questionable conduct. He cited an internal investigation of an officer who drove 116 mph on Broadway while responding to a call across town.
“That culture here has been if we have a hot call, then everybody goes.” Burton said, adding that improved oversight, better dispatching and a change of attitude would help avoid the danger of officers rushing from all parts of town.
Burton said additional staff would help him accomplish his goals. He asked for:
- One training and recruiting officer.
- Two K-9 officers.
- Seven detectives.
- Five officers for permanent downtown patrols.
- Six police sergeants. One would work in internal affairs. Burton said the two officers there now "are pulling their hair out."
Some of the new sergeants also would oversee people being detained at the police department. He said he also wants more supervisors to ensure that officers are patrolling beats rather than socializing.
But Burton will have trouble securing the money to hire so many people. Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said Burton's wish list made him wonder whether the chief was asking for a lot, knowing his request would be cut back.
City Manager Bill Watkins praised Burton's work at the department and said the chief has begun to change attitudes after being on the job for only a year. But he's wary of budgeting for new staff. The goal this year, he said, is to stick with the number of employees the city has.
The chance that Burton will get more cops is slim, Finance Director Lori Fleming said. Budget projections show that without cuts over the next few years, the city will have to dig deep into its reserves.
"We have to cut $1.7 million," Fleming said.