Mediator talks review boards

At well-attended Monday meeting, residents heard a discussion on the topic
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:35 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA - William Whitcomb told a packed audience Monday that whether they want a citizen review board or not, the community must educate itself on the topic and reach a consensus.

“The main thing is to get an agreement of what you want, and you are far from it,” he said.

There were about 60 people in the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library for the Human Rights Commission’s monthly Community Study Circle. Whitcomb, a mediator for the U.S. Department of Justice, talked about what a citizen review board was and the various forms it could take. He emphasized that his presentation was to provide information and not to influence the decision.

“I don’t want to hear that little Bill Whitcomb came and said this is how you are supposed to do it,” he said. “I’m here to provide information for the entire community.”

Some people, like Liz Schmidt, came because they had heard about the citizen review board but wanted to learn more about it.

“I came to see if we can straighten things out before it gets any worse,” Schmidt said.

But for those who have been involved in the citizen review board debate, the attendance was encouraging.

“We know we need to be united in what we do,” said Pamela Hardin, the first vice president of the NAACP. “But it was a good first step because the community was here.”

Khesha Duncan of the Concerned Citizens of Boone County said the controversy surrounding the citizen review board is the reason things have not progressed quickly.

“I understand that with something this large, it doesn’t just happen overnight,” she said. “But there needs to be some movement.”

Many questions were asked about the Columbia Police Department’s handling of complaints and how a civilian review board would alter it. In April, a consultant reviewed the department’s procedures and made recommendations to help the department increase transparency and increase trust with the community. The committee responsible for researching procedure had a meeting Monday night. They hope to have the new policy in effect on Jan. 1, 2008.

After an hour and a half of discussion, the common sentiment was that something needs to be done.

“It is time for us to get busy and move forward,” Hardin said. “The travesty would be to have this meeting and just go home.”

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