Students voice SWAT concerns to council

The council also voted to change laws regarding MIPs.
Columbia residents Justin Becker and Randall Thomas protest the actions of the Columbia Police SWAT team at the City Council meeting Monday night. Several residents voiced concerns to the council about the SWAT team's actions in a Feb. 11 raid of a Columbia home, during which a dog was shot and killed.

Two MU students addressed the City Council on Monday night to call for stricter oversight of the Columbia Police Department’s SWAT team.

Graduate student Holly Henry and sophomore Spencer Pearson spoke to the council about the raid of a Columbia house the SWAT team conducted Feb. 11. During the raid, officers shot and killed a pit bull and arrested the homeowner on misdemeanor drug possession charges.

Video of the raid taken by police was posted to the Internet and has been viewed over 1 million times. The video sparked heated debate about use of force by police when serving search warrants. Pearson, who is a Maneater staff member, said the video’s popularity increased the need for more oversight.

“This incident has put a stain on our city’s name,” Pearson said. “The world is watching and waiting for your response on this issue.”

Henry called for an investigation of the independent investigation of the incident separate from the one CPD completed and disclosure of the evidence gathered in the CPD investigation. She also demanded new policies limiting the use of the SWAT team for raids.

Outside the meeting, a handful of protesters held signs echoing the students’ calls for reform. Columbia resident Justin Becker agreed with Henry’s suggestions, but said the council should consider eliminating the SWAT team.

“I think it’s a start,” Becker said. “I think if they do video then they’ll start being accountable and maybe realize they don’t need a SWAT team in Columbia.”

Randall Thomas, also of Columbia, said police need to gather better intelligence than can be gathered from anonymous informants.

“I think the detective work needs to take place before a SWAT raid happens,” Thomas said.

The council also voted unanimously to increase the age at which minors can remove alcohol-related offenses from their criminal records.

People who are found to be in possession of alcohol who are under the age of 21 will now have to wait until they are 22 to have the conviction expunged from their record. Previously, people convicted for MIPs could have the charges expunged one year after the conviction or when they turned 21.

Betty Kidwell, coordinator of Mothers Against Drunk Driving for Boone County, said her group did not oppose the ordinance but she asked the council to table the vote to give MADD more time to research its effects.

“We do not oppose this change, but we would like more time to evaluate the pros and cons,” Kidwell said.

The council chose not to table the vote, which was 6-0, with Fifth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Nauser abstaining. No MU students made public comments before the vote.

The council also unanimously approved changes to laws regarding noise in the city’s downtown area. Members approved a bill that includes input from the Special Business District, a group of downtown business owners. One of the most prominent changes will give police the ability to fine individual patrons making noise, rather than the business they are in at the time.

SBD Executive Director Carrie Gartner said she was pleased her group was involved in the crafting of the new ordinance.

“We’re very pleased with how the process went and the involvement we got from a broad range of downtown stakeholders,” she said.

The next City Council meeting will be June 7 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chamber in Columbia City Hall.

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