Columbia Police Review Board meets with ACLU

Issues included police use of Tasers and execution of search warrants.

The Columbia Police Review Board met Wednesday with two representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union to discuss potential concerns Columbia residents might raise to the CPRB.

Former St. Louis police officer Redditt Hudson and ACLU defense attorney Dan Viets presented concerns regarding the excessive use of force exerted by many police officers. Their presentation discussed police protocol regarding the execution of search warrants and the usage of Tasers.

"The fact is that Tasers can be and have been lethal weapons, and police continue to use them as a means of gaining compliance from potentially non-violent citizens," Hudson said. "Empty hand control, ASPs (metal batons) and mace have been and continue to be, effective ways to gain compliance."

CPRB Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez said because of the issue of Tasers in Columbia, the CPRB has begun plans to hold an informational session with the Columbia Police Department, which has met with the board in the past regarding police policies.

Viets, who has represented clients on the receiving end of police brutality, also detailed the issues surrounding search warrant execution, which he noted as being excessively violent and insensitive to the criminal histories of those whose homes are being searched.

"Yes, these people may frequently be drug dealers, but that alone does not give us reasonable cause to believe they are violent," Viets said. "Battering down a door in the middle of the night, carrying guns and yelling violently is often too extreme and may be an infringement on the rights of the homeowner. It just doesn't make sense that SWAT teams are the default."

Viets and Hudson closed out the evening by opening up dialogues with CPRB members and discussing future opportunities for the CPRB to learn about community complaints.

"I would say I have learned more to think about tonight than I would have ever expected," CPRB member Steve Weinberg said.

Since its creation three months ago, the CPRB has not received any community complaints, LoCurto-Martinez said.

"We have yet to receive community response," LoCurto-Martinez said. "However, we have two volunteers who have already committed to assist those who are interested in filing complaints. We are still looking for volunteers, and there have been posts in local classifieds seeking more volunteers."

As a means of gaining public acknowledgement, the CPRB will be holding other informational meetings in upcoming weeks, starting with an outreach session on May 19 at Russell Chapel in Columbia. Other members of the board gave verbal commitment to speak in their own church congregations about the CPRB's activity.

LoCurto-Martinez said the CPRB is making attempts to establish community outreach.

"We're still in a state of establishing that people should not be intimidated by the CPD when making complaints," LoCurto-Martinez said. "However, if they do feel the threat of retaliation or intimidation from any law enforcement, they should know that they have resources available when needed."

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