COLUMBIA — The Citizens Police Review Board sided with the Columbia Police Department for the second time in a week.
During its Wednesday night meeting the board discussed 41 appeals, en masse, regarding the Feb. 11 SWAT raid at 1501 Kinloch Court, and again it cleared the officers involved of misconduct. During the raid, officers fatally shot a pit bull, while a 7-year-old was in the house. A small amount of marijuana was found.
Previously, an internal investigation Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton conducted cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, but Burton publicly admitted the department made some missteps before the raid. He made several changes to the department's SWAT policy.
Last week, the board heard its first appeal of a complaint about that incident from a pair of activists from California. The meeting was surrounded with several questions, including the role of the board and who exactly can file a complaint. It heard the appeal but sided with Burton's final decision.
When the California-based appeal was criticized for being outside of Columbia, 41 residents appealed the chief's decision themselves. The board reaffirmed the officer's actions were proper. The vote Wednesday night was the same 4-3 vote as last week.
"At this point, I have no compelling evidence that the police officers discharged their weapons in a way that violated the policy that was in place at the time," board member Steve Weinberg said.
Dan Viets, a local attorney who filed one of the appeals, said he didn't want to see anyone involved in the incident punished. Instead, Viets wants to see more changes to the policy.
"The problem is not how quickly they execute a search warrant," he said of Burton's changes. "The problem, what matters, is the violence employed in the execution of those warrants."
The board agreed to look at the use of search warrants for nonviolent crimes. The board also agreed to examine whether the department was following a 2004 ordinance passed by voters that instructs police to make marijuana possession a low priority of police enforcement.
Burton has previously expressed doubts about the ordinance's enforceability.
The board also discussed the time it takes for formal complaints to work their way through the Police Department.
The process works like this: When someone feels like he or she has been mistreated by an officer that person can file a formal complaint with the department, which triggers an internal investigation. The results of the investigation are then sent up the chain of command and reviewed, with the chief having final say. If the chief rules that the officer acted appropriately, the complainant can then appeal the decision to the review board.
When he addressed the board, Deputy Chief Tom Dresner apologized for the generally long wait on complaints but said the unit handling them has too much work to do and not enough officers to do it.
Earlier in the meeting, a local attorney said the police department needs to move faster on complaints, even if it is busy.
"I've an inbox this big on my desk," attorney David Tyson Smith said as he raised he hand up to his chest. "So I respect that, but it's not good enough."
Smith was representing a woman whose complaint has still not been resolved after four months. The suggested time table is 50 days, according to a Police Department standard referenced by the board.
Dresner described this time period as "wildly optimistic" and said without additional funding more officers probably can't be added to the internal review force.
The board requested the most up-to-date policy on internal reviews and agreed the wait was too long but did not take any formal action during the meeting.