Mediator set to discuss review board

A Justice Department official will answer questions tonight on the topic of citizen review boards.
Monday, July 30, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:06 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

COLUMBIA - “Citizen review board” is a phrase Columbia’s residents have heard a lot lately. But there has been little discussion of what the phrase means.

Residents will get a chance tonight to have their questions answered.

William Whitcomb, a mediator with the U.S. Department of Justice, will discuss citizen review boards tonight as part of Columbia’s Human Rights Commission Community Study Circles program.

“I hope people take advantage of the first public forum to raise questions in a neutral setting,” said Nanette Ward, a member of the Human Rights Commission who is organizing the event.

Whitcomb has worked with Columbia’s city government and citizen groups in the past. Mayor Darwin Hindman said he has solicited Whitcomb’s input on the police oversight issue.

“I think he is going to say that wide citizen input is needed to decide what’s best for Columbia,” Hindman said.

Hindman is forming a citizen committee to look into the possibility of police oversight. He said that there are some people who think Columbia doesn’t need it, while others think a citizen review board should be able to overrule decisions made by the police department.

“But there are all sorts of possibilities in between,” he said.

Whitcomb will talk about his work with the city government and the groups involved in the citizen review board discussion, Ward said.

“He is aware of the steps that have been taken in Columbia, so he’s going to present what’s going on locally from his perspective,” she said.

But, Ward emphasized, this discussion is not a debate.

“People should come for a better understanding and to express their concerns via questions,” she said. “People will probably have strong feelings about the issue, but we want everyone to be respectful because it is not a place for debate.”

The event will be held from 6 to 8:45 p.m. today at the Columbia Public Library Friends Room, 100 W. Broadway.

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