UPDATE: City Manager Matthes says he stands behind Police Chief Burton

Thursday, April 26, 2012 | 7:33 p.m. CDT; updated 9:57 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 27, 2012

COLUMBIA — City Manager Mike Matthes says he is standing behind his chief of police.

On Thursday, Matthes characterized recent calls for Police Chief Ken Burton's resignation as an attempt "to use the press to get a groundswell of public opinion  against Burton."

He said he has received "an immense amount of contact in support of the chief" since news broke that a local police organization wanted Burton fired.

"Their intended action has had the opposite effect," Matthes said. "I've had not even one contact in support (of the call for Burton's resignation)."

The Columbia Fraternal Order of Police addressed a letter to Matthes and Mayor Bob McDavid on Wednesday asking that Burton be relieved of his command.

The Columbia organization alleged Burton had committed "numerous policy and city ordinance violations," several stemming from Burton's handling of incidents such as the 2011 firing of patrol officer Rob Sanders.

On Thursday, Burton released a statement pledging to stand his ground in the face of rising opposition.

"My commitment to providing superior law enforcement services to our citizens and the success of the CPD is unwavering, and I intend to see it through," he said.

Matthes said he'd also heard from many officers telling him they were not consulted in the police organization's decision. He added that he did not believe the organization was representing the majority of members.

"They're a small group of officers representing themselves," he said.

Ashley Cuttle, executive director of the Columbia Fraternal Order of Police, said in response that the organization had the backing of its membership when it asked for the removal of Burton.

The decision was made by a unanimous vote of the organization's board of directors, she said, which includes Cuttle and seven officers elected by the general membership. She said the organization decided not to put the motion to a general membership vote.

The board was “trying to go about this in a way that keeps our officers safe from retaliation,” Cuttle said.

She added that for individual officers to come forward to oppose Burton would be “too much exposure” and she expressed confidence that the request for Burton’s removal had the support of “a vast majority of the membership.”

About 140 of 160 police officers are members of the Columbia Fraternal Order of Police, she said. It is a chapter of a statewide group that has voiced its support of the complaint.

Though Matthes told the organization that he promised he would review the full 349-page complaint, he said he remained unwavering in his decision to retain Burton at his post.

Matthes also added his concern that the organization's action would have a further negative effect on the day-to-day operations of the police department.

"I have very grave concerns," he said. "The fraternal order led by St. Louis continues to alienate police officers from the community. They are doing themselves a disservice."

Cuttle said the "tipping point" for the police organization was a recent radio appearance by Burton during "The Gary Nolan Show" on KSSZ/93.9 FM in Boonville.

During the program, Burton discussed a recent departmental review by independent consultant Eric Anderson, which found that morale among Burton's officers was "extraordinarily low." During the interview, Burton called members of his command staff "subversive," according to selective transcripts included in the police group's complaint.

“To a man we found Chief Burton’s actions to be reprehensible and for this reason we took the unusual step of formally condemning Chief Burton’s actions,” the organization's statement said.

In a recent letter to city councilmen, Matthes promised to personally conduct reviews of the police department's senior command staff following the Anderson departmental review's assessment.

"Council should expect these will result in changes," Matthes said.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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