Columbia is not without controversy and the harsh reality of criticism. This time it is a move by some members of the Columbia Police Department to oust police Chief Ken Burton from his office.
Most of us know the story. Burton was hired as an "outsider," which some in and outside of the department were not comfortable with. Burton is, like me, an "outsider," brings little Columbia history and certainly little knowledge to an established entity. But he does bring experience.
He has made a number of changes, and change is always difficult regardless of the entity. New methods, new rules, new forms, all having to be learned and incorporated into the comfort of the "old ways," which were most likely the "new way" not that long before.
This "discomfort" usually leaves a few at odds with any new leader, system or owner. Burton and CPD are not immune.
Burton fired Officer Rob Sanders, an 18-year veteran of the department, for using excessive force. Sanders pushed Kenneth Baker, who was in a holding cell, into a cinderblock wall, causing what Baker is claiming to be significant injuries to his neck and back.
As reported in the Missourian on Sept. 21:
"At around 11:20 p.m., the tape shows a man restlessly pacing, covering his eyes with a paper towel and yelling, though his statements are barely audible on the tapes.
"(Chief) Burton said the man had been arrested on two outstanding felony warrants and was pepper-sprayed after getting into a 'pretty significant fight' with officers not shown on the tapes.
"At 11:37 p.m., officers can be seen suddenly entering the cell, and one is seen forcefully pushing the man from a standing position into a wall. A loud thud can be heard, and blood can be seen on that officer's forearms as he handcuffs the man."
Today, a group of officers and their supporters want Burton dismissed. Their stated reason is that Burton did not indicate that he was accused of using excessive force more than 30 years ago while working for the Dallas Police Department on his application for the Columbia top-cop job.
These same individuals are also upset that Burton fired Sanders.
They have organized themselves as "Chief Burton needs to Resign," a grassroots organization calling for his resignation or termination.
They also have a petition and claim to have more than 200 signatures, though the petition shows only 58.
Their opposition comes from an interesting source, Keep Columbia Free, which worked against the use of surveillance cameras in downtown Columbia.
They are joined, at least in spirit, by the Missouri Civil Liberties Association, which is not affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to Dan Viets, the Civil Liberties Association has not made an official statement concerning Burton but is allowing the Keep Columbia Free’s petition in support of the chief to circulate through their mailing list.
Their petition can be found at keepcolumbiafree.com and lists more than 100 signatures.
Yet one incident has nothing to do with the other. Firing Sanders and refusing to let him buy his K-9 working partner seem to be the focus.
People learn from their experience and their understanding of a situation in which they find themselves entangled.
If Burton's action were based, at least in part, on his past experiences, good and bad, then Sander's dismissal appears justified.
Burton also had an advantage — the CPD Internal Affairs investigated the incident, and decisions were made on more complete information than you or I have.
Yes, I have met and had conversations with the chief. Yes, he did talk to my class at Columbia College last year.
I am not privy to the chief’s job application to comment on the allegations against him, or to Sanders' personnel file. However, from what I have seen, read and heard, there appears to be no malice in Burton’s actions to fire Sanders.
I am throwing my support to Burton and will sign that petition. Our cops are good men and women, doing the best they can with limited resources and funding.
I believe Burton is and will continue to lead them well.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. David’s newest book, A Christian Nation? is now available through Amazon.com.