Columbia police will soon have standards for Early Intervention System

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | 10:38 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The system was set up to point out police officers who have problems with use of force. But in 2010, after the Columbia Police Department broadened what was defined as use of force, alerts were going off for nearly all patrol officers.

With Chief of Police Ken Burton in attendance, Captain Dianne Bernhard and Lieutenant Krista Shouse-Jones of the Internal Affairs Bureau gave a presentation Wednesday to the Citizen's Police Review Board about the department's Early Intervention System, which is supposed to indicate potential problem officers.

By late December, the Columbia Police Department hopes to have better standards by which to judge if officers use too much force when on patrol.

Bernhard spoke of Blue Team — a program that officers use to file all use of force incidents — that the department started using in January. Previously, the department reported incidents on paper.

Currently, after a report is entered into the system, it's passed up the chain of command until it reaches the Internal Affairs Bureau, Bernhard said.

The challenge for the Internal Affairs Bureau has been deciding how many reports of use of force will set off an alert for an officer.

"We probably report more types of use of force than most other departments in Missouri," she said. She said this needs to be taken into account when the department sets a number of incidents for an alarm to go off.

Bernhard hopes the department will have new definitions that will recognize the kind of incident an officer has been involved in — 10 incidents of handcuffing without an arrest will not be the same as 10 incidents of discharging a firearm.

Once Internal Affairs gets a warning about an officer, a notice will be sent to the officer's supervisor, if some type of disciplinary action is required. The supervisor will then determine if the officer needs additional training, has personal problems that interfere with his or her performance at work, if there are or other issues or if there are justifiable explanations for those issues.

"It could be completely innocent, but we're going to look to see if there is a potential problem," Bernhard said.

After that the supervisor and the officer will come up with a plan to determine if additional training is needed or if "there are different steps that officer needs to take."

Shouse-Jones said additional training can include things such as stress management or counseling for substance abuse — if that abuse is directly related to work performance.

"We want our officers to be professional," Bernhard said. "And when we have folks that don't meet that expectation, then it's up to us to deal with that."

James Martin, chairman of the Citizen's Police Review Board, said he thought the Early Intervention Program was a good idea.

"To me it says a lot about the Columbia Police Department because it shows that they are active in trying to ward off any potential problem that they come up with in the Police Department," he said.

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