Even if Columbia had a Civilian Review Board to assist in investigating complaints against police, Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said it would not play a role in the current investigation of former officer Steven Rios.
Rios is currently being investigated in connection to the murder of MU student Jesse Valencia, whose body was found on East Campus on June 5. Boehm has repeatedly said Rios is not a suspect in the case at this time.
“A review board would not play any role in this investigation because it is a criminal investigation,” he said. “Quite frankly, the investigation is being conducted well and thoroughly.”
Civilian review boards generally help investigate complaints filed by the citizenry with police departments about officer conduct.
A Missouri statute effective since August 2003 gives cities and counties the right to establish a civilian review board to “investigate allegations of misconduct by local law enforcement officers towards members of the public.”
Boehm also said a review board in the Rios case is not necessary because the involvement of the Missouri State Highway Patrol has helped to increase the impartiality of the investigation.
At an National Association for the Advancement of Colored People board meeting on May 25, Boehm was asked to review the possibility of establishing a civilian review board in order to increase the accountability and integrity of the police department, said Mary Ratliff, president of the Columbia chapter of the NAACP.
Boehm plans to respond to Ratliff some time this week.
“At this point I’m not in favor of creating a review board for a number of reasons,” Boehm said. “I don’t believe the current system is broken.”
Among those reasons, Boehm said that such boards are usually related to a significant incident that points to police abuse or misconduct and that Columbia has not seen such an incident.
Unlike Boehm, Ratliff believes that the prior establishment of a civilian review board would have impacted the Rios investigation.
“If we had a review board, things might have moved differently and quicker,” she said.
The call for a civilian review board, however, was heard in the community long before the Rios investigation started.
“This is about more than one officer or incident,” said Mary Hussmann of Grass Roots Organizing. “To us, it would be just a good public policy to have. It’s not that the police or citizens are doing a bad job. But, if a complaint about an officer comes in, it would increase the community’s confidence if it was looked at by more than just the circle of blue.”
GRO has collected more than 200 signatures on a petition calling for the establishment of a review board, and the NAACP also plans to start a petition.
“There are boards like this in many different cities, and I think they can really work if they’re done right,” Hussmann said.
The St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners created a civilian review board on May 19.
The St. Louis board has been met with mixed responses, and the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression has argued that the method of member appointment takes away from public ownership of the board.
Ratliff believes, though, that a board for Columbia would increase the public trust in the police department.
“A board would benefit the citizens of Columbia,” she said. “When a police officer is being investigated the public can partake rather than rely only on the department.”