Residents raise issue of profiling with police

Wednesday, May 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:49 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

In an NAACP meeting billed as a public forum, Columbia residents aired concerns about racial profiling to Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm behind closed doors Tuesday night.

Members of the media were barred from the discussion after members of the organization’s executive board voted to close the session. The move to close the meeting frustrated some who participated in the forum.

“What have they got to hide?” said Columbia resident Ralph Pugsley, who attended a portion of the closed-door meeting.

Pugsley said discussion focused on why police have a heavier presence in some areas of Columbia. According to Pugsley, Boehm said the areas are policed more heavily because the Columbia Police Department receives a heavier volume of calls about the area. Pugsley said based on what he heard discussed, many Columbia residents think otherwise.

“The African-American community in Columbia honestly, truly believes there is racial profiling,” Pugsley said.

Amanda Broz, a resident of the First Ward and an MU master’s student, said residents who attended the forum seemed to distrust Boehm’s reasons backing the police presence.

“I think his statistics are accurate,” Broz said. “But I think his justification is a bit skewed.”

According to Broz, Boehm said statistics show that a greater volume of calls to the department come in from certain districts of Columbia, and therefore more police are dispatched to those areas. Broz said many residents at the meeting called for statistics of arrests made by individual officers, not just in individual districts. The residents said this would help prove racial profiling does play a role, Broz said.

In April, residents voiced concerns in a forum addressing racial discrimination by police officers. Neither Boehm nor other police officers attended the meeting. Broz was at the meeting, however, and said the stories she heard in April helped convince her to come back for Tuesday’s forum.

“It was very moving to hear,” Broz said. “It was a very sad thing to attend.”

Boehm, who became police chief in 2000, attended Tuesday’s forum along with about 30 other Columbia residents, including First Ward City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton.

Mary Ratliff, president of the Columbia branch of the NAACP, said Boehm was asked to attend the forum so he could address some specific concerns that had been brought to her attention.

“Many of the citizens feel that they are being unduly targeted,” Ratliff said.

Ratliff said the forum would also be used to float the idea of a citizen’s review board to Boehm. Ratliff said the board would include private citizens who would examine and track complaints against police officers — a job currently assigned to Boehm.

Ratliff said the development of the board is in the early stages, but support among residents and Columbia officials is growing.

Pugsley said that from what he heard at the meeting, he would support the implementation of the board.

“There has to be some type of oversight,” Pugsley said. “Without oversight, we have chaos.”

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