Very soon, Interim City Manager John Glascock will appoint an interim police chief. Who that is will determine the immediate philosophical direction of the Columbia Police Department.

In an unfortunate and tragic confluence of events, several large issues will immediately confront the interim police chief. In chronological order, the Twitter issues surrounding Lt. Brian Tate, the accidental death of Gabriella Curry and the documentary by Citizens for Justice about the relationship between Barry Manthe and the Police Department.

Together, these cast a dreadful pall over the heart and soul of a vital part of the local community, the agency tasked with the safety and security of the city.

To state that trust is at an all-time low is a blatant understatement. Regaining that trust will be Job One for the new interim, and who that interim is will be the surest indication of the seriousness of the city in addressing these core issues.

I’d like to offer some commentary about the issues, as a retired CPD administrator who still very much cares about this community, this agency and the dedicated souls who try to do their best every day.

First, Brian Tate. In policing, there are many things officers can do wrong that will bring discipline. And of those many things, be it discourtesy, procedural violation, doing or not doing X or Y, they can recover, pending fair and impartial discipline.

However, some things, once done or said, cannot be recovered from. I categorize them in two ways: mistakes of the head and mistakes of the heart. These are two areas that are usually fatal to a police career: untruthfulness and demonstrable bias.

The reason they are fatal is because police officers are the only members of American society empowered to legally take life without due process of law. Revelation of the beliefs of those so empowered sheds great light on their hearts, deeply held convictions, worldviews.

In Tate’s case, the officer involved is a member of middle management, a leader who was once responsible for overseeing internal affairs investigations. His social media comments revealing an arguably deep animus of African-Americans as well as disparaging commentary about other minorities and the less fortunate indicate a mindset that is at deep disparity with contemporary cultural expectations.

Those cultural expectations may vary according to location in America, but the nation is now watching closely to see what message is conveyed by the action (or inaction) taken on this issue.

Lest anyone argue from the free-speech angle, it is and has been consistently held that government employees have curtailed free-speech rights and do not enjoy the same protections as the general citizenry.

It also serves to taint any further official action he takes against people of color as well as all such related past internal affairs investigations. I wrote recently about the importance of trust being paramount in police-community relations.

There is simply no avenue to enhance trust in the Columbia Police Department, absent the termination of his employment, along with a strong message condemning similar activity on the part of any other member. The policy is clear, and it was clearly violated. In 2019, this cannot stand.

The tragic death of Gabriella Curry rocked Columbia and the Police Department to its core. I can only hope that in the aftermath, great care and concern is being privately expressed to her family as well as Officer Andria Heese. Gabriella’s family is in unspeakable pain, as is Officer Heese, I am sure.

There is much that can and should be done on the part of the city, but I can only hope that all are being compassionately tended to privately and that the relative public silence is merely an illusion of inaction.

I am not sure what to make of the Citizens for Justice documentary on Barry Manthe and CPD. I reached out to Matt Akins shortly after learning of it. I like Matt and have kept in touch with him over the years.

I scanned my memory banks, and I don’t recall ever hearing Manthe’s name while there, even when in top management. I found that privately embarrassing, given the breadth and nature of the allegations. I still don’t know what to make of it all, because I was not involved in any internal discussions about Manthe and I simply don’t know what the thinking was in relation to him and his operations.

I observed that a now-former officer appears to have been untruthful under oath, and he is no longer employed. If that’s a proximal result of his dishonesty, then the correct managerial prerogative was likely exercised.

I do find it disturbing that the “Sunshined” police reports were so difficult to obtain. If we in law enforcement have nothing to hide, hesitation and obfuscation is completely unnecessary. Failure to release unless threatened with contempt of court is anathema to enhancing community trust.

Nevertheless, with Manthe now facing federal prison, it is incumbent on the Columbia Police Department to explain that relationship in detail with complete transparency. Internally requesting a special prosecutor would certainly improve public trust as well.

I have faith in a City Council that has clearly indicated what the future of policing in Columbia should look like. I have known John Glascock for years, and I believe that he is a man of integrity. What you see is what you get, and his primary goal is doing the right thing. No hidden agenda.

Now is the time for bold leadership in the city and in the Police Department. We should soon know what that may look like.

The challenges ahead are huge. Starting off on the right foot with bold moves to restore public trust is the necessary foundation for a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship between Columbia’s police and their community.

Without trust, nothing else is possible.

Tom Dresner is a former interim police chief and deputy chief of police at the Columbia Police Department.


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Recommended for you