Burton presents changes to SWAT team policies

The changes come almost four months after a controversial SWAT raid on a Columbia home.

Columbia residents and officials discussed police policy at Monday’s City Council meeting. Public comments were prompted by the continuing controversy over the Feb. 11 SWAT raid of a Columbia home as part of a drug investigation.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton presented a report on the police department’s search warrant policy and noted changes that he has made to this policy. The changes regard who is in charge of overlooking the warrant and the procedures taken to serving the warrant. Burton also changed specific policy about serving narcotics warrants.

“Once probable cause is established to obtain a search warrant for narcotics, the target location will be kept under surveillance,” Burton said. “That was one of the failures of this warrant service is that the surveillance was not maintained and eight days later we ran the warrant.

Burton has also changed policy by requiring warrants regarding narcotics to be served within eight hours in order to ensure that the surveillance is maintained and information is current. In addition to these changes, the police department has ordered helmet cameras for all entry team members in order to have the exact point of view of officers involved in police action.

Burton also gave the council a report on the specific problems surrounding the February raid.

“We were wrong in many areas on the approach of the warrant part itself," Burton said. "Once we served the warrant, the officers’ actions, based on what they knew at the time and our protocols, were found to be proper."

Donald Warren, founder of a group called CoMoCitizens, spoke to the council about implementing changes in Columbia police policy about the use of SWAT teams.

“It goes without saying that it is policy that needs to be changes,” Warren said. “Chief Burton has made significant policy changes and I’ve come here to ask you to make these policy changes permanent.”

According to the group’s website, CoMoCitizens is a group of citizens against the use of SWAT and search warrants for non-violent crimes including the use of search warrants for drug possession and distribution charges. Warren cofounded the group with his wife, Erica Warren, for the specific reason of addressing the issues brought up by the SWAT raid.

The City Council also passed a bill to name the planned garden at Stephens Lake Park the Darwin and Axie Hindman Discovery Garden in honor of the former mayor’s 15-year tenure.

“It’s a great way to put an asset or facility in the park and honor the former mayor and his wife for all the contributions they have made especially towards the acquisition of that park,” Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said.

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