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Review board disagrees with Columbia police over governing ordinance

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 | 9:21 p.m. CDT; updated 10:58 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 1, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Citizens Police Review Board voted Tuesday to make only minor changes to its governing ordinance , after finding few points of compromise with the city's police department and the Columbia Police Officers Association.

"We have to have our independence because if we don't — if we look like we are a rubber stamp for the police department — we lose our integrity and people lose faith in us," James Martin, the review board's vice-chairman, said.

In July, Mayor Bob McDavid gave the review board and the Columbia police an informal two-month deadline to submit proposed changes for the board ordinance, which established the review board after City Council approval in July 2009.

The police department submitted its proposed changes later that month, which included a more specific definition of misconduct, limitations on who can appeal to the review board, restrictions on police personnel files and additional training for board members in police procedure.

But at Tuesday night's meeting, review board members didn't budge much. Although the review board agreed to allow closed sessions, it rejected most other proposed changes to its operations.

"I think the board is pretty much in accordance that some of these proposals that we received from the police department have been restrictive," Martin said, adding that he spoke for himself only.

McDavid asked the police and review board to compromise on seven points of the ordinance before submitting their proposals to the council. In those areas, the review board has decided:

  1. To make a change to its previously agreed upon definition of misconduct. Complaints must be assessed based on the police code of conduct in effect at the time of the incident. Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton requested it be revised to a definition based on the Missouri Revised Statutes. Currently, the review board recommends that misconduct be defined as "any violation of federal law, state law, city ordinance, city regulation or police department policy, guideline, directive, rule, regulation or order."
  2. To allow all residents of Boone County to file an appeal. The police department wants to limit who can file an appeal with the review board to those personally involved in an incident, or their parents or legal guardians if they are under 17.
  3. To keep the section requiring disclosure of police complaint files to the review board unchanged. The ordinance currently states that "all ... complaints filed against police officers ... shall be open records, except those closed by state or federal law and ... records or portions of records that would disclose the identity of an officer working undercover."
  4. To allow closed sessions on a case-by-case basis if two-thirds of the review board votes to do so. The review board will continue to develop guidelines on which complaints might merit a closed session.
  5. Not to increase mandatory training and patrol car ride-alongs.
  6. To require the police department to post its policies online, excluding information about tactics. Board member Betty Wilson, an attorney, said she was worried about that exclusion. "Tactics is a pretty broad loophole," she said, expressing concern the police department might use the provision to conceal important information.
  7. To require the police department to submit monthly and annual summaries of all cases involving the use of force, as well as internal and external complaints.

After the review board finalizes its proposal at its Sept. 14 meeting, the draft will go to the Columbia City Council. McDavid said after the meeting that the City Council would resolve any differences between the police and the review board’s proposed changes to the ordinance if the two parties failed to reach a compromise.


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Comments

Jeremy Calton September 1, 2011 | 9:22 p.m.

Regarding Ken Burton's desired definition of "misconduct":
a) The CPRB would have been acting as state judiciary, without any requirement for a legal background
b) If the case rises to the statutory level of misconduct, then the case SHOULD BE IN FRONT OF A STATE COURT, not the CPRB!

The CPRB is tasked with increasing public trust and confidence in the CPD. It's not there to serve as a judicial body in any way. Since it's not issuing legal opinions or decisions, there's absolutely no reason for the board to be restricted to a technical/legal definition. To the extent that they have one, it should be defined by the community, since that's who they represent.

The closed sessions are an anti-democratic idea, but they require a 3/4 super majority (since the number of members isn't divisible by 3) which will probably never happen.

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