Mayor's Task Force evaluate community policing but take no action

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 | 10:41 p.m. CST; updated 12:26 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 27, 2014

COLUMBIA — When the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence first met in August, co-chair and Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp stressed the importance of consensus to provide meaningful recommendations.Wednesday's meeting featured two discussions that will throw a wrench in that plan.

After an hour of discussion on community policing, the task force did not make any formal recommendations because members disagreed on the best way to address police training in response to crime in the community.

Members also discussed the merits of neighborhood watch programs, but they declined to make a formal recommendation until they receive local data.

The task force announced it will hear a presentation created by Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton, which they hope will address some of their questions about community policing. Members requested Burton give the presentation himself.

Community policing

Task force member Jerry Taylor said he didn't know if more relationships between citizens and police would reduce crime, but it could address growing problems within Columbia.

"The one issue I come back to is that a lack of trust between the black male community and the police is so apparent," Taylor said. "Being a logical person, that needs to be affected quickly, through actions and training."

Task force member Pam Hardin was in opposition to the plan because she believes the problem isn't the type of policing but the officers themselves and their interactions with minorities.

Hardin said officers need to receive cultural sensitivity training, and they can't be scared to interact with minorities. She also said there needs to be more minorities on the police force before relations can improve.

"The African-American community is not comfortable with so-called community policing," Hardin said.

Task force member Tyree Byndom suggested the Police Department continue to implement the recommendations from the Anderson report, an independent consultant's suggestions for improving the department created in 2012.

He said the task force needs to look at community policing as a way to bridge the gap between the Police Department and the community.

"Community policing is low hanging fruit, and it has to happen," Byndom said. "This is a national issue."

Trapp said if the task force recommended the Police Department switch to a community policing model, members would also have to recommend hiring more officers.

"Community policing is labor intensive on the force," Trapp said. "A realistic recommendation for community policing would probably have to involve increased resources in regards to that."

Hardin was opposed to that idea. She said there were other issues that needed to be addressed before any new officers should be hired.

"Before we would be comfortable with the community policing, we would be saying 'Let's put some other things into place,'" Hardin said after the meeting. "Let’s get some serious sensitivity training."

Neighborhood watch

Fulfilling a request from the city manager's office, the task force also looked at funding for neighborhood watch programs.

Trapp said the city is well-served by involvement through programs like these, and task force member Paul Prevo said he went to a neighborhood watch program in Columbia where the community was involved and engaged.

But Byndom said it was "a defunct program," and task force member Steve Calloway said putting money toward neighborhood watch programs doesn't make sense when the Police Department is too underfunded to respond to calls.

Although members didn't make a formal recommendation at the meeting, Prevo said he wanted to recommend funding neighborhood watch programs, but only after the task force gathers the data on all the issues it has discussed.

The task force set a date for its work session, which will be held April 26. Its next meeting will be on March 12.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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