Top Disappointments: Columbia Police chief refuses to acknowledge racial profiling

Despite clear evidence that racial profiling is a problem in Columbia, Chief Ken Burton follows his “stubborn streak.”

This year, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton could not have ignored a larger elephant in the room.

Despite data showing black Columbia residents were three times more likely to be pulled over than white residents in 2015, Burton repeatedly denied the significance of the evidence.

“I’ve got a stubborn streak in me, and when I looked at the data I said, ‘That’s not enough data for me,’” Burton said during a Jan. 30 meeting at City Hall meant to address racial profiling. “I still believe that, and I think we need to look into it more.”

The 2015 data shows that Columbia had a racial disparity index of 2.97 for traffic stops, while the index for the entire state was just 1.61. Furthermore, while black people were more likely to be stopped than white people, they were less likely to actually be found with contraband.

Public outrage inititally began after a July 2016 city council meeting, when Burton flatly denied the existence of racial profiling in Columbia. This statement caused several people to leave the meeting and sparked calls for Burton’s resignation.

Since then, Burton has responded by scheduling four town hall meetings to hear citizens’ concerns and by instituting a consent to search policy, which requires written consent before officers can search a person’s vehicle.

But Burton still couldn’t bring himself to do what the community asked: acknowledge the proof.

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