COLUMBIA — After nearly 45 minutes of public discussion, the Columbia City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday night declaring the need to "conduct a community engagement process for policing" in Columbia.
The adoption of the resolution comes after a year long process of public meetings and town hall events intended to address racial profiling and implicit bias within the Columbia Police Department.
The resolution will lay the groundwork for an updated community policing initiative that will involve residents interacting closely with the police. It was drafted by Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas as a better method for gathering community input on policing.
"The process is designed by a broad stakeholder group," Thomas said. The format of previous outreach efforts, Thomas said, "were predetermined within city hall."
The resolution states that the process should involve Columbia residents from all walks of life, including residents from both high-crime and low-crime neighborhoods,as well as Columbia police officers and groups specializing in race relations, among others.
The goal of the resolution is to "design and coordinate a community engagement process that will include public events, consultation with experts, and review of relevant research.”
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, president of a local activism group called Race Matters, Friends, said the most challenging part of the struggle for more accountable community policing policies still needed to be dealt with.
"It’s easy to broker the resolution. The challenge is doing the collaborative work going forward, and we’re prepared to do that," Wilson-Kleekamp said. "We’re going to work with the police, we’re going to work with everybody, that’s what community policing is all about."
Wilson-Kleekamp said that many of the recommendations included in the resolution came from the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence, published in 2015. The task force was disbanded after it presented its final report to council. The task force was created by former Mayor Bob McDavid as a response to increased crime in Columbia in 2013.
Mayor Brian Treece said the whole process "could be moot" if the city doesn't address the need of short staffing and a lack of resources within the police department. Thomas rebuked Treece's argument, saying "The important thing is to make a public statement now."
City Manager Mike Matthes recommended using council reserves to fund the program. This is an annual fund created specifically to pay for unanticipated issues that weren't considered when creating the city budget.
The general fund of the police department was also pitched as a possible funding source for the project, but Matthes said it would require a budget amendment to use these funds.
The original resolution set a completion date of Nov. 30, but Thomas and First Ward Councilman Clyde Ruffin entertained the idea of removing that deadline to allow for robust discussion and consideration of the resolution. Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala proposed tabling the vote until the resolution had been more fully considered by the council, but that suggestion was met with a chorus of "no's" from the public.
Thomas amended the resolution to change the deadline date to Feb. 28, 2018.
C.W. Dawson Jr., a pastor at Dawson Journeys Ministries, said he wants a process where everyone has a seat at the table. He also emphasized that the council should not think of this issue with an "us versus them" mentality.
"My neighbor told me to ask you to tell the police department that they are not the enemy," Dawson Jr. said. "The police should know I'm not the enemy either. I live on Sixth Street. I live in the hood, but I want to be part of a neighborhood. We need your help."
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