City council members voted unanimously Monday to change the Columbia Police Department’s philosophy, making it more engaged with citizens and minority groups.
According to the resolution document, community-oriented policing emphasizes officer interaction with underprivileged youth in Columbia and “will include public events, consultation with experts, and review of relevant research.”
Despite initial concerns by some council members, the resolution eventually passed after an amendment extended the original November deadline to next February. This will allow CPD and the city more time to implement the new philosophy.
Fourth Ward council member Ian Thomas, who proposed the resolution, said he had the support of activist groups such as the NAACP and Race Matters, Friends, as well as Columbia Police Chief Kenneth Burton.
“I’ve introduced this bill because public safety is the most important role of local government,” Thomas said. “A lot of people in the community, and most of us on this council, recognize some serious challenges that our police department is facing right now in a number of different areas.
When Mayor Brian Treece and city manager Mike Matthes asked how the resolution would differ from CPD’s town hall meetings, Thomas said it would give the community a voice rather than leave decision making to council members.
“The distinguishing feature of what we’re voting on here would be that the process is designed by a broad stakeholder group,” Thomas said. “Everything that [Treece and Matthes] just mentioned was designed within City Hall and within the Police Department. What I firmly believe we need is a more inclusive process.”
During the public hearing portion of deliberations, multiple residents took to the podium to declare their support for the resolution, including MU faculty and students.
“We are asking for a new way of doing policing in Columbia,” RMF treasurer Tara Warne-Griggs said. “That’s what we want. And so my challenge to you all is: What are you afraid of if you vote no tonight?”
Warne-Griggs and RMF have been pressing the city for community-oriented policing since the group formed in 2014, and many were in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.
Columbia resident Dr. Clanton C.W. Dawson, Jr., who was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in philosophy from MU, also spoke about the importance of including the black community in this new process.
“I live in the hood, and the first part of that is neighbor,” Dawson said. “We need to have a process in which all of us can sit at the table. Not just a selected few. Not just the bourgeoisie. But all of us.”
Before a final vote could take place, some council members expressed concern about the lack of a concrete plan and the fiscal feasibility of such a project, especially with many vacancies in the police force.
“I'm sort of frustrated that we need to spend a year talking about what we want our nonexistent police force to do,” Sixth Ward council member Betsy Peters said. “It's not that I don't support this issue, but I'm sort of frustrated to think that we're going to allow our city police officers to flounder for another year while we talk.”
Third Ward council member Karl Skala even proposed to table the resolution “at least until we get through dealing with the UDC,” referring to the implementation of the new Unified Development Code which took up a majority of the council’s agenda that day. Skala’s motion was swiftly denied.
After the council finished its discussion, all members voted in accordance and agreed to set a completion deadline for Feb. 28, 2018.
Further discussion will be required to lay out the exact framework for the initiative, Thomas said.
Edited by Madi McVan | firstname.lastname@example.org