The Columbia City Council is likely to vote to approve a new contract with the Columbia Police Officers’ Association (CPOA) on Monday.
In response, the council will also likely hear from city residents who believe CPOA's contract should not be renewed and that the organization's leadership should change due to allegations of racism.
The CPOA represents all full-time police officers at the Columbia Police Department below the rank of lieutenant. The council will discuss whether to authorize a new three-year contract with the union, which has already reached a tentative contract agreement with the city.
The most significant change made to the new contract is implementing random drug testing of all officers and some employees, according to a City Council memo. If approved, the contract will be in place until Sept. 30, 2023.
CPOA and one of its representatives, Dale Roberts, have been the subject of some controversy, such as when the organization declared a "Darren Wilson Day" in 2015 and reshared a Facebook post linking the Black Lives Matter movement with a homicide over the summer. Several groups have said the police department should sever ties with CPOA and look for an alternative organization to represent police officers.
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, president of Race Matters, Friends, wrote a guest commentary for the Missourian in September calling for a new vision of policing and the replacement of CPOA.
Wilson-Kleekamp also participated in the city’s community stakeholders project, which seeks to engage community stakeholders in discussions about improving social and racial equality in Columbia.
She's scheduled to give public comment about reimagining the stakeholder project at the meeting Monday. Wilson-Kleekamp said the renewal of the CPOA contract invalidates the project's purported goal of meaningfully addressing the Columbia community's history with racism and creating action steps to improve policing specifically.
"By keeping the CPOA, they are maintaining the very ideology that the stakeholders group wants desperately to see dismantled," she said.
After contacting Mayor Brian Treece, Fourth Ward Councilperson Ian Thomas and Fifth Ward Councilperson Matt Pitzer about CPOA, Wilson-Kleekamp said only Thomas had responded as of Sunday.
Wilson-Kleekamp recalled a resolution the city passed to affirm its commitment to diversity and racial equality in 2018, which the Treece brought up at a city council meeting in June in response to the death of George Floyd. Wilson-Kleekamp wants the City Council to ask for Roberts' resignation and discuss how the current state of CPOA conflicts with this resolution.
"The council should address how the CPOA's mission and vision conflicts with community policing and the 2018 resolution called the principles of community that affirm the city's commitment to diversity and racial equality," Wilson-Kleekamp said in an email.
David Wilson, one of the founders of Ragtag Film Society, said he plans to speak at the meeting and posted his thoughts about CPOA on Facebook. He encouraged people to reach out to their city counselors and attend Monday night's council meeting. Wilson and Wilson-Kleekamp all cited since-deleted posts on CPOA’s Facebook page as evidence that the council isn't holding the organization accountable.
“I think that we as citizens have the right to expect that our police represent the best of us,” Wilson said in an interview. “And that’s a high bar but it’s not too high a bar. And, when representatives of our police like Dale Roberts tell us again and again that they don’t value the lives of black and brown citizens the way they value the lives of white citizens, I think that’s bad for our community and it’s bad for our country.”
Chad McLaurin, executive director of Race Matters, Friends and a member of the police department’s Vehicle Stop Committee, said he is disappointed by the city’s continued relationship with CPOA and Dale Roberts, as it stands in stark contrast to the model of community policing. If the City Council were to seek an alternative to CPOA, members of the community should be involved in the process, McLaurin said.
“There’s a chronic problem throughout the city at all levels of just letting people into the conversation into the process of participation,” McLaurin said. “So I mean ideally they should be looking at what group can we have to represent the community’s interests, bring them into the process and facilitate, rather than manage these relationships which are highly problematic.”
Brittany Hughes, Columbia organizer for Missouri Faith Voices, said CPOA is only aggravating policing issues in Columbia.
“There doesn’t feel like there’s a level of accountability for officers when a harm is done to someone in the community,” Hughes said. “And if anything, the union is just unhelpful to the work that community leaders and activist organizers are trying to do here in the town to think about and reimagine the way that law enforcement interacts with citizens.”
Hughes said if it were up to her, she would not renew the union's contract, but that it might take a few officers challenging the status quo for a change like that to happen.
Wilson acknowledged that the issue of renewing the contract is complex.
“I believe strongly that workers have the right to organize and have the right to pick their own representation,” Wilson said. “And it’s not the place of management to tell them who represents them.
But, he added: "I would hope that the rank and file officers of Columbia could see that the current representation at CPOA does them no favors. And that their workplace, which is our town, would be a better, more hospitable place if they found new representation.”
Although the contract renewal is already underway, Wilson said he hopes this moment can serve as a wakeup call to white Columbians like himself.
Roberts declined to comment on the renewal of CPOA's contract as the process is still ongoing.