COLUMBIA — Mayor Brian Treece started the sentence multiple times.

"We clearly need more discussion on this," he finally said.

The public comments part of Monday's regular City Council meeting briefly became tense as members of the audience audibly protested and then walked out on Columbia Chief of Police Ken Burton when he denied that the department is engaged in racial profiling.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas and First Ward Councilman Clyde Ruffin also were critical of Burton's denial.

Ruffin, who is black, said every African-American citizen in Columbia has a story of bias and encouraged Burton to do a better job of listening to personal stories.

Burton was responding to several people who spoke about racial issues in Columbia at the beginning of the meeting.

Two members of Race Matters, Friends, mentioned a recent report by Attorney General Chris Koster that detailed the racial disparity in traffic stops. The report found that while 9.9 percent of all Columbia drivers are black, black drivers accounted for 29.6 percent of all traffic stops in 2015, according to previous Missourian reporting.

This was the highest disparity for the Columbia Police Department since the attorney general's office began gathering data in 2000.

The scheduled speakers didn't focus solely on that report. David Aguayo, who emigrated from Mexico, praised Columbia for welcoming to him as an immigrant. He discussed racial bias he observed in Columbia's schools and said education was the biggest reason for Columbia's social equity issues.

"Let us begin by addressing our biases toward those that are different from ourselves," Aguayo said.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp spoke about a recent survey released Monday by the Columbia Police Officer's Association, which showed an overall lack of morale by many police officers in the city. Over 80 percent of respondents, for example, said the Columbia Police Department was a "toxic" environment.

A Police Department news release responded to the survey Monday afternoon.

"As a department, we recognize and value the opinions and concerns of department personnel," it read. "We have not and do not deny morale is low for our officers, just as it is throughout the nation in this trying time for the profession."

Wilson-Kleekamp said she was saddened by the results and said officers need more support. But she also criticized Burton for his leadership of the department.

"We have a chief who is paid well that is denying the data," Wilson-Kleekamp said, referring to the attorney general's report.

"If you cannot come up with answers to that data, I think you should resign." 

Several people in the audience, including members of Race Matters, Friends, immediately burst into applause. 

City Manager Mike Matthes then asked the council to allow Burton to respond.

"We don't have a racial profiling problem in Columbia," Burton said.

Burton acknowledged that racial profiling may have occurred in the past and said that "implicit bias" may be present in some officers, but he challenged anyone with evidence of profiling to present it to the department's internal affairs office or to call him directly.

Several people in the audience walked out soon after Burton denied a racial profiling problem. Wilson-Kleekamp interrupted from the back of the room to ask if Burton would take a meeting to discuss the issue. Burton said he would.

After Burton spoke, Wilson-Kleekamp interrupted Treece as he attempted to proceed with the meeting. She said it was unfair for Matthes to allow Burton to speak in a setting where Burton couldn't be asked questions from the audience. 

After the meeting resumed, Wilson-Kleekamp gathered about 40 people in the lobby outside the council chambers and said Race Matters, Friends, should organize a petition to remove Burton as chief and write letters to the Department of Justice.

Later in the meeting, Alan Mitchell, the president of the Columbia Police Officer's Association, also criticized the Police Department and said its response to the survey was poor.

Supervising editor is Blake Nelson.

Samantha Brown is a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.

  • Samantha Brown is a student at the University of Missouri majoring in English and Journalism.

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