When Police Chief Geoff Jones was a kid, he took off from home.

When the police were called, he wasn’t detained and processed. Instead, a deputy sat him down and explained what could happen to him if he got in the car with a stranger or got himself into trouble.

That’s the model for policing he wants to bring to Columbia, he said — one where the community is the backbone for keeping the peace and protecting children. But that vision will take work.

At a Wednesday night meeting of local advocacy group Race Matters, Friends, Jones answered questions from members on the future of Columbia Police Department’s approaches to community policing, traffic stops and school safety. This comes after Columbia saw six homicides in 10 days in September.

When asked by a community member what to expect from the department’s future approach to policing, Jones responded that police should be engaging the community directly.

“If you’re waving at the cops, they should be waving back,” he said. “They should be getting out of the car and talking to you.”

The philosophy of a respectful relationship between officers and their community extends to traffic stops, as well. Jones said that officers performing investigative stops can offer a brief explanation to drivers who are pulled over while officers are in pursuit of target suspects.

Still, there’s a tension between investigative stops and racial profiling. Jones said that the demographics of the people currently being sought by authorities in investigative stops can affect disparity indexes, which are used to understand racial breakdowns in traffic stops. Racial disparities in traffic stops did drop slightly in 2018, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Jones answered questions on policies about school resource officers, as well.

“We can’t assume that the police officer is attached by a string to the school, either,” he said.

However, he said, it is important to understand that the police are working in an environment that they don’t have final say over.

“I understand that it’s an institutional problem, but understand that the police are working in an institution that is not run by us,” he said.

Jones spoke to the importance of building relationships in the community as part of the department’s mission.

“Community policing is a buzzword, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “What it boils down to is that we have to have relationships that allow us to involve the community in our decision-making, our policy-building, our training and how we police our community.”

  • I'm a Public Safety & Health beat reporter at the Columbia Missourian, with past lives as a data scientist, academic researcher and defense contractor. You can reach me at spencernorris@mail.missouri.edu.

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