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Review board not justified or necessary

Wednesday, June 13, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:02 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Memorandum to Mayor Darwin Hindman: Please lose the notion of appointment of a citizen review board to exercise oversight of the Columbia Police Department. This is an extremely bad idea, the application of which will cure nothing but create a problem that does not exist.

The mechanism for overview of the department is, as it has existed for years, already in place, obviating any requirement for what can be properly referred to as merely another layer of bureaucratic overkill. If our chief of police; the City Council; the city manager; the courts and the media, consisting of two daily newspapers and two television stations; cannot be trusted to provide the appropriate measure of oversight, we are in deep trouble.

Performance, training and discipline of police officers are the responsibility of the chief as are the internal investigations of alleged misconduct and the subsequent punishment and/or termination of those found to be culpable or negligent. The very presumption by a few that the department’s internal review board, with the overview of the chief of police, city manager and City Council, would compromise its integrity with perfunctory investigations of valid citizen complaints is, to put it bluntly, summarily ridiculous.

By its very nature, law enforcement is subjective, based in large measure on the judgment and discretion of the on-scene officer. The safety of that officer or officers as well as that of other citizens may well require split-second decisions to include that of the imposition of deadly force as the only viable option. I am relatively certain that all reasonable persons understand that the one inhibition a police officer doesn’t need is the possibility that his or her judgment will become a target for second-guessing by a tribunal composed of people who not only were not there but also have never found themselves in such a situation.

Equally alarming is the very possible consequence obtaining from this perhaps well-intentioned but ill-advised proposal. In Randy Boehm, Columbia enjoys a chief who has established a professional competence and leadership ability that has earned the respect of the community along with that of his peers. Who could blame Boehm should he decide the imposition of this civilian review board to be a vote of no confidence in him and the integrity of his department and look elsewhere for a more appreciative community?

Additionally, the creation of a citizens’ panel for oversight will certainly add to the difficulty of not only recruiting a new chief when that becomes necessary but also officers for the force. Professional officers understand that oversight and review of performance is both justified and necessary; however, meddling by any other name is still meddling. Law enforcement ranks as one of the most hazardous, yet under appreciated, of professions — let’s not add interference and second-guessing to the load already carried.

There will always be those who are quick to blame authority for their own shortcomings; accordingly, we should not be surprised to see the police accused of being the problem rather than the solution. Admittedly, cops do make mistakes and there are a few bad ones just as there are bad people on the street. In my experience, mistake-prone officers either learn by experience or don’t last. The bad ones are weeded out, but the street thugs and criminal element remain among us.

Once again, if it ain’t broke, please don’t fix it. We don’t need our police officers looking over their collective shoulders at a panel of those armed with 20/20 hindsight in lieu of practical experience.

Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.


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