Columbia police chief speaks to CoMoCitizens about policy changes

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 | 6:46 p.m. CDT; updated 6:59 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 23, 2010

COLUMBIA — The Feb. 11 SWAT raid and the Columbia Police Department's marijuana policies were the main talking points at Chief Ken Burton's meeting Wednesday afternoon with a public safety activist group to discuss policy changes within the department.

The group, CoMoCitizens, was created in response to a SWAT raid at 1501 Kinloch Court, where Columbia police killed one dog and injured another in the presence of a child, while looking for drugs. In a series of news conferences following the incident, Burton announced restrictive policy changes that he said would cut down on the number of SWAT raids executed by the Columbia Police Department.


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CoMoCitizens has asked the department and the Columbia City Council to make the department's policy changes legally binding.

At the meeting with CoMoCitizens, which was held at former mayoral candidate Sid Sullivan's home, Burton discussed the changes: listening to the public, reviewing procedure and conducting more detailed investigations before executing SWAT raids. He also said the decision to conduct a SWAT raid will now be an "administrative" one, approved by higher-ranking officials in the department.

"I am very confident that we will not see another Kinloch," Burton said, referring the name of the street where the Feb. 11 raid took place.

The Police Department received 94 pages of complaints about the Feb. 11 raid, which were obtained by the Missourian through a Sunshine Law request. Complaints came not only from Columbia, but from Detroit, California and South Africa, among others. Some of the letters compared the SWAT team to Nazi officers or terrorists.

Most complaints dealt with SWAT officers killing a pit bull and shooting a smaller dog. Quite a few letters also took issue with a 7-year-old being in the home at the time of the raid.

Many of the complaints called for the officers to be fired or to face criminal charges. Some also demanded public apologies from the department and the SWAT team. One letter requested that the SWAT officers undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

As previously reported by the Missourian, a California man has appealed his complaint about the SWAT raid to the Columbia Citizens Police Review Board.

During the meeting, many CoMoCitizens members also asked Burton about the department's attitude toward marijuana. Columbia's ordinance that decriminalizes marijuana is extremely difficult to enforce, Burton said. The ordinance states that marijuana should be the lowest priority of law enforcement and that the department should focus on violent and property crimes instead.

The difficulty lies in public perception, Burton said. If a resident calls the Police Department about a possible drug crime, that resident is going to expect the Police Department to investigate the claim, whether the claim is about marijuana or some other drug, he said.

"So much of our work is complaint-driven," Burton said.

Most of the members present at the meeting thanked Burton for the changes he's implemented and for attending the meeting.

CoMoCitizens co-founder Donald Warren said he appreciated Burton taking the initiative — without prodding from City Council — to make sure a raid similar to the one on Feb. 11 doesn't happen again.

As he ended the meeting, Burton said he encouraged all residents to keep coming forward with complaints about either the department or individual officers.

"I need to hear when you have those bad experiences," said Burton, adding that residents' involvement in working with the department is "absolutely imperative."

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