The Columbia City Council on Tuesday night discussed a draft resolution that would direct City Manager Mike Matthes to design a program, timeline and budget by June 30 for the Columbia Police Department’s transition to community-oriented policing. The council scheduled a vote for the resolution on Feb. 19 but plans to allot time for additional public commentary during the Feb. 5 meeting.
Community-oriented policing takes a proactive approach to reducing crime through shared values among the police force and the communities they serve, according to the resolution, which was largely drafted by Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas with help from First Ward Councilman Clyde Ruffin and Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp. The model is described in the resolution as “an approach to public safety” that includes long-term patrol assignments in designated neighborhoods, with time dedicated to building relationships in those communities.
According to the resolution, early efforts involving community policing in parts of Columbia have led to communities seeing reductions in emergency calls and all categories of crime. A focus of the program is the use of warnings in responding to minor crimes.
“This really has to be a collaborative process if it’s going to be successful,” Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said of the importance of maintaining collaboration between the City Council, the city manager and the community throughout the planning process.
Speaking in support of the resolution, Thomas referenced Vision Zero, a city goal to eliminate traffic deaths and injuries by 2030.
“One of my models for this is the Vision Zero process, where we adopted a policy resolution, essentially, and we directed the city manager to develop a vision plan, a funding plan and bring that back six months later,” he said.
Although protocol doesn’t call for public commentary on reports during City Council meetings, Mayor Brian Treece opened the floor to hear community feedback.
Members of the group Race Matters, Friends, attended the meeting to share their ideas and concerns.
Peggy Placier, a member of the group, said she is very encouraged that the council is moving forward with the resolution after tabling it in the past. She said she supported community-oriented policing in terms of endorsing the philosophy but said “the issue will be in the planning, execution and evaluation.”
Pat Fowler, a resident of north-central Columbia, addressed a concern about her experiences with police in her neighborhood.
“How you are treated by our Police Department depends on where you live,” Fowler said during public commentary. “Let’s go forward with community policing with all intention of speed and goodwill, but let’s not forget we have a deeper problem here.”
In February 2017, the council ordered a public review of community policing and passed a resolution calling for a public conversation about how to move forward. The council considered hiring the Heart of Missouri United Way and New Chapter Coaching to lead a public forum, but that idea was met with resistance from residents who said the forum would be too short and non-inclusive. Some council members also felt the original $69,000 price tag was too high, and they tabled the contract.
Others felt the forum as proposed would have failed to specifically address racial profiling in Columbia. In 2016, black drivers were being pulled over at “a rate that was 3.9 times higher than the rate at which white drivers were stopped,” according to previous Missourian reporting. The new resolution seeks a plan that addresses community concerns about disproportional traffic stops and searches.
The push for community-oriented policing began in 2014, when the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence recommended the model as part of a solution for violent crime. Two years earlier, two officers were assigned to do foot patrols in Douglass Park, which was once known as a hotspot for crime. The two-man patrol, whom many Douglass Park residents grew to know by name, was expanded following the task force recommendation and named the Community Outreach Unit.
The city has since expanded the outreach unit so that it has enough officers to span four areas of Columbia, “despite severe resource limitations,” according to the resolution.
Implementing community policing would be difficult without adding significant numbers of new officers to the Police Department. In 2014, however, voters rejected a proposed 30-cent property tax increase that would have paid for 40 new police officers and 15 new firefighters.
City Manager Mike Matthes and council members have considered putting another property tax increase before voters, perhaps as early as the April 3 municipal election. The deadline for having issues certified for that ballot is Jan. 23.