Review board gets support

Mayor will start a group to consider creating citizen watchdog panel for police
Wednesday, June 6, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:14 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mayor Darwin Hindman will appoint a committee to investigate whether Columbia ought to create a citizen review board for its police department.

City officials, until Monday night, had expressed reservations about creating such a board despite long-standing pressure from some community members. Hindman, however, announced plans to appoint the committee after hearing a presentation last night from members of the Minority Men’s Network.

Network members Charles Nilon and Al Plummer, who is the former director of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, gave the council a resolution outlining the reasons that they think a review board should be established. One factor cited in the resolution is that “the question of police use of their authority, including but not limited to the use of deadly force and racial profiling, remains an ongoing source of controversy between police and Columbia residents.”

After listening to Nilon and Plummer, Hindman said he would appoint a committee to investigate the current system of police department reviews and to examine what other cities have done.

Hindman said he had met with citizen groups and talked with City Manager Bill Watkins, as well as a representative from the U.S. Department of Justice, to reach a decision.

“I am convinced that, when you look at the statistics, that they raise enough issues that we should be looking at some oversight of the police department,” Hindman said.

Hindman said he also reviewed data from the police department and looked at figures such as the number and types of crimes committed, where crimes are committed and reports about racial profiling.

Statistics given by Columbia police to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office last week showed that black people who were stopped by police were searched almost three times as often as whites and were arrested nearly four times as often.

Plummer said the mayor’s announcement came as a surprise.

“I didn’t think they were going to make a decision,” he said. “It’s an appropriate move.”

Nilon said the idea behind the Minority Men’s Network resolution was simple.

“Our purpose is to ask the City Council to take this issue seriously.”

Plummer and Nilon took time to acknowledge their respect for the police profession but maintained the need for oversight.

“We recognize that law enforcement has a tough job, at best,” Plummer said. “Hopefully we will not get bogged down with ‘us versus them’ mentality, but it comes down to the community coming together.”

Hindman did not specify a timetable for the planned committee, but said that he hoped it “wouldn’t take more than a year.”

“This is a time-consuming and difficult process,” Hindman said. “If it is done right, we can improve the situation.”

The mayor said he hopes the committee will include members of the police department, representatives of neighborhoods and other interested people in the community. He said he would not be able to appoint a representative from every group that has expressed an interest in the matter.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala envisioned an end result that might be similar to the way the military is overseen by civilians.

“It benefits both parties,” Skala said.

Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku also spoke of the need for action.

“This issue will continue, and we need to address it,” Janku said.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser was the only member to express “philosophical” reservations about the process. She maintained that citizens being policed by the department might not be the best to review it.

After the meeting, Nilon expressed approval of the council’s decision. He said the Minority Men’s Network expected that a committee might be necessary.

“I was pleased with the decision,” Nilon said. “I support what the mayor proposed.”

Missourian reporter Alex Lange contributed to this report.

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