COLUMBIA — The Citizens Police Review Board heard a presentation Wednesday night from the Columbia Police Officers Association and discussed possible changes to board policy.
The presentation centered around the openness of board meetings and possible changes to its ordinance.
Joe Marshall, the attorney representing the officers association, said the way the board currently operates leaves officers open to excessive risk of civil and criminal liabilities. While some transparency is needed for the review board to operate, information is too easily accessible, he said.
"There comes a time when that transparency has to have a shade," he said of the board's openness.
Marshall said information that "ought not be public" is available and can result in costly legal battles.
He also said officers involved in complaints should be allowed to have legal counsel present to make the investigative process more efficient and officers' testimonies more precise. Marshall also said the city should pay for the officers' attorney fees because many officers cannot afford to obtain their own legal counsel.
"Management is able to reach out and get assistance," he said of higher ranking police department officials. "Regular police officers are not."
Board member Betty Wilson said she disagreed that the board or the city should be held accountable for those attorney fees and argued the board's obligation was to citizens not officers.
"Citizens don't have the same kind of support," she said. "They come to us as an individual and out of nowhere — they're coming on their own."
Other board members were more concerned with the proposed amendments to the board's ordinance. When board member Stephen Alexander asked Marshall about specific amendments, Marshall said he was only asked by the association to discuss the problems of the board's current ordinance, not to suggest amendments.
Marshall said the police officers association would be willing to talk to board members further on potential changes to the ordinance. The board tabled the issue for further deliberation because there were no proposed amendments.
The board also discussed developing a mediation process as an alternative to a full investigation. Members deliberated on two options for mediation: one consisting of only mediation and one allowing for both mediation and investigation.
A mediation-only option would give complainants a private setting to negotiate with officers, but would not allow for investigation if mediation were unsuccessful. The other option would allow for an investigation if mediation did not resolve the case.
Many of the board members were reluctant to make a decision either way without examining the issue fully. Board member James Martin said the board shouldn't "rush into" a decision.
Board member Carroll Highbarger put forth a motion to hear presentations from mediators at the University of Missouri School of Law, and Martin amended that motion to include other sources as well. The board tabled the issue for discussion at its next meeting.
The board also briefly discussed whether it should have subpoena powers to require witnesses to appear and testify. Board members debated the actual effectiveness of this, but ultimately decided on further deliberation.
Members also discussed executive sessions and the possibility of implementing guidelines for when the board should be allowed to conduct closed sessions. The City Council, in its most recent meeting, asked the review board to provide more specific reasons for going into private sessions before it would pass an amendment to the ordinance.
The board is scheduled to meet again in June.