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Columbia Missourian

City Counselor's Office possibly hiring new lawyer to work exclusively with police

By Zac Boesch
August 9, 2012 | 6:57 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Because of the volume of legal work generated by the Columbia Police Department and the small staff of the City Counselor's Office, the city manager's 2013 budget includes money to hire another full-time attorney to work exclusively with the Police Department.

“They generate quite a bit of law business,” City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said.

The new attorney would be an employee of the the City Counselor's Office and not the Police Department.

The city budget for 2013 proposed by City Manager Mike Matthes includes $133,931 for the position. The budget is subject to the approval of the City Council, which will hold work sessions and public hearings on the spending plan. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. 

The idea of adding an attorney came from Police Chief Ken Burton, who has requested an attorney in his budget since the 2010 budget year. Consultant Eric Anderson, who issued a written evaluation of the Police Department in March 2012, also included the recommendation for hiring a full-time attorney in his report.

The addition of a full-time police attorney "just does a good job of keeping us out of trouble," Burton said. 

He noted that as the city has been growing, the city attorney's office hasn't been growing with it. Most cities of Columbia's size have an attorney dedicated to their police departments, Burton said. 

Matthes was unavailable for comment.

Anderson said in his report that hiring an attorney for the department would be a good idea “in order to supplement improved training; reinforce the department’s internal justice system; provide for speedy interpretation of the ordinances, laws, rules and regulations of the department; and support officers in the field.”

Current litigation involving the department is split between the city attorney's office and outside attorneys. From 2009 to Aug 1., there has been $420,037 in litigated claims involving Columbia police.

The highest individual settlement resulted from the incident involving former police officer Rob Sanders, who pushed Kenneth Baker in a holding cell, injuring Baker's back. Sanders was later fired. The city agreed in a settlement with Baker to pay him $250,000. That money came from the city's self-insurance fund.

An attorney could help the Police Department ensure that any revisions to its rules, regulations and procedures comply with state and local ordinances, Sgt. Jill Schlude said in an email. Schlude also said the attorney would handle Sunshine and other record requests, internal investigations, grants and contracts.

The police departments in St. Louis and Kansas City both have full-time attorneys, but they function in a different capacity.  They report to those cities' boards of police commissioners rather than the police chief or the city attorney's office.

Carol Rhodes, assistant city manager, said there is no job description available for the new position yet.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.