Columbia police open to department changes following 'toxic' review

A review of CPD noted problems in the department’s culture including pay and training.

A review published two weeks ago found the culture of the Columbia Police Department “toxic,” and caused an outcry from officers for change.

The independent review, conducted by Eric A. Anderson Associates, listed specific problems contributing to low morale within the department. One of the biggest concerns is the issue of pay compression, meaning newer employees are being paid as much as, if not more than, those with more experience.

In the case of CPD, sergeants and officers have still faced the problems, which have already been corrected for the higher-ranking lieutenants and captains.

“We’ve been working on (getting this problem fixed) for years,” Ashley Cuttle, executive director of the Columbia Police Officer Association, said. “Because there are fewer people at the top, they started at the top and worked their way down. Right when we got to sergeants, which should have been last year, the city said they couldn’t do it.”

This has caused friction within the department as officers and sergeants are upset the issue hasn’t been fixed. Numerous attempts at compromise have been made to solve the pay compression but none have been approved by City Council.

“We actually went so far as to ask for only half of the sergeant’s (compression) to be fixed, but the city said no,” Cuttle said. “So we talked it out with the chief (Ken Burton) and said, ‘How about if you can find the extra $45,000 in your budget, we just fix it in house?’”

Burton agreed to it, but the request was denied by City Council.

“The needs of the city need to be addressed in the sense that we need to answer the city’s law enforcement needs and we need to pay the police officers so we can provide that,” Citizens Police Review Board member Mitch Richards said. “It’s not easy. You have to come up with a lot of money. I’m not trying to gloss over it, but it needs to be addressed.”

The report also calls for a review of all CPD senior command staff positions, including Burton’s. It also suggested that each member of the command staff be reviewed for “their leadership and managerial capacity for their offices.”

Professors at MU made a similar report in 2006 before Burton became chief three years ago. The issues listed there haven’t been resolved since, and have only worsened, according to the newer review.

“(Chief Burton is) blaming the command staff, but he promoted all but two of those people,” Cuttle said. “To blame the command staff still reflects poorly upon him.”

Richards said he believes that despite the problems, Burton should keep his job.

“I think that Chief Burton has done the best he could,” Richards said. “I think he should stay. Overall, he’s been a net-positive for the community.”

One issue CPD staff has had with Burton has been his implementation of new polices.

Cuttle said a new, 500-page policy manual was sent to officers Feb. 15 to be read before its implementation March 1. No training courses were conducted, and the officers were simply expected to read the entire document while on the clock.

“They need to do something more than email it out to them and have them responsible for it,” Cuttle said. “It’s a legal issue. If one of them do something wrong, the city will be held responsible for it because (the officers) aren’t trained for that policy manual."

This problem falls in line with a finding in the Anderson review, which noted the inadequate amount of training within the department.

“Our officers are not resistant to change or afraid of change,” Cuttle said. “They’re asking for change. We’re hoping that it does happen, but, unfortunately, this is the third review in 10 years so the officers are really skeptical about any follow through.”

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