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Citizens Police Review Board discussion continues

Thursday, August 25, 2011 | 12:07 a.m. CDT; updated 10:38 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 25, 2011

COLUMBIA — After more than 90 minutes of testimony Wednesday, the Citizens Police Review Board scheduled an additional meeting to draft a proposal to change the ordinance.

Issues such as defining police misconduct, the review board's independence from the Police Department, whether meetings should be closed when requested by a complainant or police officer and training for board members were discussed.

After concluding the public comment session, board members entered into a work session with representatives of the Columbia Police Officers' Association and Columbia Police Department Chief Ken Burton.

As a result, the review board scheduled an additional meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday to draft its proposal to the City Council. It will address seven key differences of opinion between the review board and the Police Department raised by Mayor Bob McDavid on Aug. 1.

Citizens emphasized a desire for the review board to remain independent of the Police Department and a desire for transparency and accountability. Some citizens also spoke of rejecting any proposed changes to the review board ordinance for now.

Columbia attorney David T. Smith said he believes that changing the review board now would undermine the democratic process and undermine the citizens of Columbia.

Mary Ratliff, local and state president of the NAACP, said the NAACP objected to any proposed changes to the review board at this time.

"I think the less involvement the Police Department has in this citizen review board the better off we will be in an advisory capacity," she said. "I think the citizens of Columbia are looking for an independent citizen review board, and I think that is what we have."

During the work session Wednesday evening, officers' association representatives — executive director Ashley Cuttle and former executive director Eric Dearmont —  agreed with earlier citizen comments stressing the board should be independent from the Police Department and also recommended more training for the members.

"We think you need more training. We think the chief needs more training. We think everyone who's a professional needs more training," Dearmont said.

Dearmont and Cuttle also stressed the recommendations are simply a negotiable starting point.

"We didn't intend for any of the proposals listed in here to be the be-all end-all," Dearmont said. "We just wanted to get the conceptual ball rolling."

The review board chairman James Martin said he was pleased with Wednesday's meeting.

"We gave a lot of leeway for people to speak because we want a lot of community involvement," he said. "We are still weighing our options over having closed or open meetings."


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Comments

Mark Flakne August 25, 2011 | 8:32 a.m.

While the review board and city legal staff did a respectable job standing up to the onslaught from the CPOA representatives during the "work session," the format of the meeting did not demonstrate the board's independence. The first hour and a half was spent hearing open comments from the public, all of which (except two from current or former employees of the CPD) asked the board to reject police influence, then Chief Burton and two representatives from the CPOA were invited to take seats on the stage and given unlimited time to refute arguments that were presented by citizens.

While it might be prudent to chat with Burton, inviting two paid representatives from a privately funded police labor union to the work session, the CPOA, was an insult to the public. There were plenty of privately funded citizen groups represented at the meeting who were not given a seat at the table and who were denied a chance to comment on, refute, or rebut the unlimited and perverse comments from the CPOA.

Thanks to Rose from the city staff, the disingenuous legal arguments presented by the CPOA attorney were exposed.

(Report Comment)
Elizabeth Conner Stephens August 25, 2011 | 12:01 p.m.

Comment submitted by C. Kane via email:
From what I have read and observed, here is my opinion for what it is worth
1) Yes the Review Board should be independant from the Police
department.
2) The definition of what is excessive force should be the same as what the State defines it as. Although the definition of excessive force remains subjective. Examples have been defined in Courts of Law. Kansas City has adopted this line of thinking and has proven to be an acceptable STANDARD.
3)  The Review Board is not a Court of Law, nor should its decisions be seen as Court decisions. At the same time, all parties should be respected and given the same respect to offer their version of events, without interruption, as in a Court of Law.
4) Having a closed meeting should be an absolute exception. Likewise, if a closed meeting occurs, consideration should be given for the decisions rendered also being closed. The sensitivity of material being presented and the emotional stability of the parties involved, as a minimum should be considered.
5) Legal representation should be allowed for both parties in an
advisory role only.
6) Decisions by the board should only be issued after similar cases with other City Review boards and Case law has been compared.
7) It should be made clear that the decisions of the review board have no legal standing. However, both parties have the right to appeal a decision.
8) Persons who are not party to, or have no direct involvement with the issue being brought before the Review Board should not be allowed to present evidence or testify. The exception would be any duly qualified experts to the law, law enforcement practices, or other issues pertaining directly to the
issue.
9) Decisions should when appropriate identify training issues. This is a 2 way street. Improving and enhancing the knowledge base of both parties can prove to be very beneficial.
10) In an effort to improve relationships between the community and the police, I would ask the City, the Police, and the Review Board to promote and encourage Ride Along programs, Neighborhood Crime Watch, and Neighborhood Patrol Programs.

I am not a cop. Nor am I a lawyer.  But I have been involved in my community with the Police and Citizen's groups. I have seen cops who have issues that need to be addressed, but I have also seen citizens who just want to get a cop in trouble. Fairness need to go both ways.
If an officer is out of line, then it needs to be adressed. If a citizen is out of line, it also needs to be addressed.  After all, fair is fair.

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Calton August 25, 2011 | 5:51 p.m.

@Elizabeth

#2:
The review board doesn't need to define excessive force. To the extent that a legal definition of excessive force is required, it would be either in :
A) A court of law [incredibly rare]
or
B) A CPD internal hearing or evaluation

The CPRB doesn't issue definitive "rulings" on whether excessive force was used or not, so it doesn't really need a legal definition, either.

In fact, the CPRB doesn't even issue "decisions" (#6 and #7) so there's no point in even debating those suggestions.
Essentially the CPRB issues recommendations or findings that the CPD can basically ignore.

#8:
Since the CPRB is tasked with providing accountability to the community and to address community trust in the police, the only standing one needs is to be a member of the community.
I agree this would exclude someone from California; however, it would include anyone residing in or doing business in the city of Columbia.

Since the CPRB is not a court of law (see #3) the rules of evidence do not apply (#8, again). It could be argued that the rules of standing do not apply as well; however, I do not think the city should be wasting our time and money on people not also giving their time or money to the city.
Along those same lines, creating a burdensome group of rules, procedure, and evidence would also be a waste of our taxpayer resources.

#9 and #10:
When the training/partnerships for the CPRB all involve training, ride-alongs, etc. provided by the police and LE organizations, then the CPRB is no longer independent from the police (which was your #1 goal).

I believe that the city and community are trying to avoid a potential conflict of interest when it comes to the CPRB "training" you are referring to. Certainly, a board member as a private citizen could do any of those things that you suggested on their own (as could you or I). I would not find it objectionable to recommend that they do such things, but they should not be mandatory.

I do wonder, though, if the CPRB is supposed to represent the community, then wouldn't they only need to have the same "training" as the rest of the community?

To say no would be like saying that a jury could not try the case of a CPA until the jurors had received accounting training.

And, again, the CPRB is not a court of law (and doesn't in fact try cases or issue judgments or punishments), so I don't see any particular reason why they should have a far higher standard for sitting on the board than in a criminal case where a defendant's life, liberty, and property hang in the balance.

At a CPRB hearing, any "judgment" resides entirely in the hands of the chief of police, not the board.

(Report Comment)
Chuck Kane August 26, 2011 | 8:12 a.m.
This comment has been removed.

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