Citizens Police Review Board approves closing some portions of meetings

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 | 11:46 p.m. CDT; updated 11:33 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 15, 2011

*CORRECTION: The board is not closing meetings to the public, but will allow certain cases or complaints to be closed when members feel it is necessary. An earlier version of this story indicated that entire meetings would be closed to the public.

COLUMBIA — The Citizens Police Review Board debated Wednesday night whether all of its meetings* should remain open to the public, and in the end, it voted to close some portions* of them some of the time.

The discussion stemmed from worries that some complainants were not coming forward because of the public setting and police officers' reputations were being tarnished.

"If a citizen wants to file a complaint that's private, we don't have the means to do that," board member Susan Smith said. "This open forum can be very intimidating."

With the exception of member Betty Wilson who abstained from the vote, the board unanimously approved a motion that allows it to close cases or certain complaints* if two-thirds of the members approve.

Board members also proposed restructuring the complaint process by separating complaints into two distinct categories: cases to be set for mediation and cases to be set for investigation. Some board members said certain cases are not suited for investigation and might better be solved with mediation.

Board member Carroll Highbarger said if the board were to investigate every minor complaint, then its efficiency might suffer.

"If we're going to get into different stories about traffic accidents, there's no end to that," he said.

The board suggested a compromise. Mediation could be held through private proceedings between the complainant, and police and investigations could be open to the public, they said.

Police Chief Ken Burton said he supported the idea of a new complaint process that would separate cases into the two categories. He said, as it stands now, officers' reputations could be hurt by even minor complaints.

"(The proposed process) prevents a complaint from even being on an officer's record," he said. "Currently, the way we're doing it, we've got to take a complaint even if it doesn't allege misconduct."

The board discussed the new processes for about 20 minutes, but it did not take action on the proposal. If a motion were to pass in the future, it would then go before the City Council for final approval.

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