Police, Review Board given deadline to settle differences

This story was first published in the Columbia Missourian on Aug 1, 2011.

COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid said the city will step in if the Citizens Police Review Board and the Columbia Police Department don’t find a way to sort out seven key differences.

The board and police have an informal, two-month deadline to settle their differences, McDavid said at the Columbia City Council meeting Monday night.

Earlier, the two organizations submitted separate reports to the council about recommendations for changes in the board’s ordinance. McDavid asked for the reports on July 5.

In the council meeting on Monday, McDavid said the reports were “extremely well done,” and he used the reports to identify seven differences of opinion between the two organizations.

He said they should now enter a dialogue to settle the differences.

“The next step is to ask both the organizations to come together and see if they can find common ground,” he said.

Both groups are indirectly answerable to the city. If they fail to reach a consensus, McDavid said, the council will resolve the differences.

The seven differences of opinion that McDavid highlighted are:

1. The definition of misconduct

The Chief of Police had recommended a definition based on the Missouri Revised Statute. The review board had recommended misconduct to be defined as “any violation of federal law, state law, city ordinance, city regulation or police department policy, guideline, directive, rule, regulation or order.”

2. Who can make an appeal?

The police want to limit the right to make an appeal only to people directly involved in the incident or parents or legal guardians of people directly involved.

The review board maintains it should not be limited.

3. Open records

Due to a section in the review board’s ordinance, the filing of a complaint causes opening of records that are otherwise closed by law, including police officer personnel files and closed criminal reports. Police recommend that this section be eliminated. This would allow the board to review the personnel files, but they will be off-limits for the public.

The review board disagrees with this recommendation.

4. Closed sessions and interviews

Police have recommended giving complainants the option to make a request for a closed testimony. In an earlier Missourian report, the board’s new chair, James Martin, had said the board’s sessions should not be closed.

McDavid said this was an “open question” that the council was “wrestling with.”

5. Training recommendations

McDavid said the police have asked for “more defined” training standards for the review board members.

6. Police policies to be posted online

One of the differences is the review board’s recommendation that police post their policies online so that the public, the board and police can easily access them. The police department didn’t address this issue in its report.

7. Regular reports on complaints

The review board has asked the police department to provide it with monthly and annual reports containing information on complaints.

The Columbia Police Officers’ Association also submitted a report of recommendations for the review board’s ordinance to the council. The association agreed with all of the police chief’s suggestions.

The review board said in its report that it “will ask the public to comment on the changes proposed by the chief of police and the Columbia Police Officers Association.”

New member joins the board

At the start of Monday’s council meeting, the council members selected Roger Dowis as its newest member of the review board.

Dowis will fill the vacancy created after former chairperson Ellen LoCurto-Martinez resigned. LoCurto-Martinez has moved from Columbia after her husband started a job as an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee.

Former Vice Chair James Martin automatically became the chair after LoCurto-Martinez’s departure. Stephen Alexander is serving as the new vice chair.

The council members selected Dowis after interviewing six candidates in a pre-council session Monday. The selection of a new board member requires four votes from the council. Of the six council members present, only two – Fifth Ward councilwoman Helen Anthony and First Ward councilman Fred Schmidt – didn’t vote for Dowis. Sixth Ward councilwoman Barbara Hoppe did not attend the pre-council session or meeting.

Dowis spent 25 years as a law enforcement officer with the Los Angeles Police Department and retired at the rank of lieutenant. During his interview, he said he had worked with community relations and Internal Affairs, and knows about how a complaint is investigated.

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