Council votes to change SWAT policy process

Columbia Police will have to approve changes with the council and city manager.
Columbia resident Edward Berg speaks at the City Council meeting on Monday night at City Hall. Berg addressed the council on a Sunshine request and Taser deployment.

The Columbia City Council discussed making changes to policies for the city’s SWAT team at its meeting Monday night.

Council members discussed a way to make permanent changes in SWAT recommended by the Columbia Police Department.

The ordinance presented to the council would have the changes approved by the Citizens Police Review Board. Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton started his address to the council by saying he was against the ordinance. He said the ordinance would put extra pressure on a SWAT team that was already a volunteer group.

The council moved that if there were any substantial changes to policy that the city manager and council would be informed. The motion passed with a vote of 7-0.

Instead, he suggested passing an ordinance in which the current police chief will have to make the council aware before making any substantial change to SWAT team policy.

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said he thought the ordinance might slow down the process of changing policy when it is necessary. As an example, Thornhill referred to the number of times the Taser policy has been changed recently.

“I think the policies that we have put in place are going to radically reduce the possibility of having another situation similar to the Kinloch (Court) search warrant,” Burton said, referring to a February SWAT raid in which a dog was shot and killed.

Rev. Clyde Ruffin, of Columbia, also asked the council for support for a headstone on James T. Scott’s grave, located in Columbia Cemetery.

In 1923, Scott was charged with raping a 14-year-old white girl, but while awaiting his trial in jail, a mob broke him out of his cell and hung him. According to Ruffin, thousands of people witnessed the lynching, but no charges were made against any of the people in the mob.

Ruffin said that the only describing factors to convict Scott were that he was a man with a mustache similar to that of Charlie Chaplin, that he was brown-skinned and that he had a strange odor.

“It is our belief that this headstone will not only serve to bring a layer of dignity to the circumstances of his death, but will also recognize him, not by the circumstances of his death, but as a citizen of our city, as a husband, a father, a son and an employee,” Ruffin said.

On Nov. 7, there will be a special benefit at Second Missionary Baptist Church to raise money for the initiative. Ruffin asked the council members to come to the event next month.

During the time allotted for public comment, Columbia resident Edward Berg requested the council post documents containing detailed accounts of Taser use on its website.

Berg referenced the Missouri Sunshine Law, which states that meetings, records, votes and actions made by the public government should be made available to the public. He said that it cost $1 for each document that he wished to get from the police department, which he believes contradicts the Sunshine Law.

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