Just when we thought the Citizens Police Review Board could not become any more useless, they propose an idea to effectively neuter the one semblance of power they have.
On Wednesday, the board voted and then un-voted to request an ordinance change that would allow them to hold meetings closed to the public if a witness, complainant or possibly a police officer requested it.
The debate comes after the Derek Billups case, when Columbia media outlets looked into the complainant’s criminal background after the review board discussed his case.
Several people at Wednesday’s meeting, including board members and Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jill Wieneke, argued that witnesses, complainants and police officers might be more comfortable talking to the board if they could do so privately.
The board passed the measure, then re-voted after a few people at the meeting got angry. They decided to backtrack and hold off their recommendation until later.
This is a governing body with no legitimate authority. The decisions they make concerning police misconduct ultimately amount to a letter sent to Police Chief Ken Burton, who promptly ignores it.
The one thing the Citizens Police Review Board had going for it was its ability to foster an open dialogue between the people of Columbia and the police department. Not to mention having public meetings holds police officers publically accountable.
Public scrutiny and transparency with the review board helps filter out unwarranted complaints and build public trust in both the board and the police department. Clearly, the board has failed to realize when they are unable to determine which complaints are legitimate, the public’s watchful eye and the media’s investigations indeed can.
Yes, the Missouri Sunshine Law says that public governing bodies can have closed meetings as long as they serve the best interest of the parties involved. However, the board is founded on an ordinance that states its meetings must be open. There was a reason for this.
Allowing the public to sit in on meetings is the only way the board has any sort of power, and it’s also the public’s only way to have a say on the conduct of their law enforcement officers.
If police officers are allowed to request closed review board meetings, does anyone honestly think the public will ever hear another case that goes before the board? What police officer wants public attention on a complaint filed against them?
These meetings aren’t supposed to be comfortable. They are supposed to hold police officers accountable for their actions. The people of Columbia deserve a chance to do this.
Public accountability is a safeguard to the review board’s limited authority. If the organization is designed to give the public a voice on police matters, closing them out from important hearings is counter productive, and only delegitimizes the review board even more – and, yes, it turns out that is possible. Who knew?
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