COLUMBIA — Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton is asking that the City Council change the ordinance that created the Citizens Police Review Board to list different categories of decisions the chief can make to adjudicate complaints filed against officers.
Currently, the complaint process ends with the chief making one of three determinations:
- The officer's actions were proper.
- The officer's actions were improper.
- There was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations.
Burton wants the council to amend the ordinance to allow him four options:
- That the complaint is unfounded (the acts complained of did not occur or were misconstrued).
- The complaint is not sustained (insufficient facts to prove or disprove the complaint).
- The complaint is sustained (sufficient facts to established to prove misconduct).
- The officer is exonerated (acts complained of occurred, but were justified, lawful, and proper).
Police spokeswoman Jill Wieneke said the changes are intended to make department policies more consistent.
"When the city wrote the ordinance, it did not match the wording in our Internal Affairs policy,"she said. "We're just trying to make the wording the same across the board."
Ellen LoCurto-Martinez, chairwoman of the Citizens Police Review Board, sees no problems with the proposed changes. "It's just a clarification, and we're comfortable with it. It probably gives us more options in what we can do."
Since its formation on Jan. 1, the board has taken up three complaints:
- The case of a SWAT team narcotics raid on Feb. 11, in which one of the resident's dogs was killed and another wounded while his wife and 7-year-old son were at home. The board voted 4-3 to accept Burton's assessment that officers acted properly and within the law.
- The case of a woman who was given a traffic ticket, then told police had disregarded it, only to later be issued another ticket without her knowledge. The court issued a warrant for her arrest, and she was forced to hire an attorney to straighten the matter out. The review board voted unanimously Wednesday night that Burton should apologize to the woman.
- The most recent case, which the board has just begun deliberating, in which a man accuses officers of using excessive force while responding to a disturbance at a local nightclub.
Wieneke said the proposed changes also could make it easier for the police to gain accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
"They want certain standards used, " she said. "Does this mean the same thing as this? Does that mean the same thing as that?"
Wieneke said the accreditation is one of Burton's top priorities.
The council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance amendment at its Sept. 20 meeting.