Sitting at last night’s Citizens Police Review Board meeting was much different than the atmosphere at the first one held at City Hall a couple months ago. First of all, we were a much more lonely gathering. There weren’t more than 20 folks who came and sat through the meeting from the general public. But the meeting itself was a procedural clusterfuck.
First off, there was no public comment to be heard before the vote. I understand that the ordinance has been drafted to require this*, which means that the ordinance needs to be revised. The entire point of the Citizens Police Review Board is to engage the community in oversight of police actions, so the public’s concerns ought to have at least some effect on how the board will vote.
What’s worse, they didn’t even let Ed Rosenthal or Angela Bacca speak until after the vote had been cast, and they were the people who filed the appeal in the first place! The appeal was supposedly put to rest after the board passed two separate motions. The first approved Chief Burton’s policy changes and recommended that City Council adopt them and also recommended that policy be changed to require police to know for certain whether there are pets and/or minors at a residence before performing a so-called “dynamic entry.” The second approved of Chief Burton’s investigation of the SWAT raid and his exoneration of the officers.
What was so silly about the meeting, and what I addressed during the public comment section, is all of the board members but one expressed their unhappiness at how narrow the scope of Chief Burton’s investigation was. Yet, when it came time to vote, only three board members voted no on the motion to approve and accept Burton’s investigation. One board member, Steve Weinberg, even stated for the record that he “would vote yes, but with a troubled mind.” Are you serious? It’s obvious these people had some convictions about voting yes, but for some reason, they chose to anyway. Very disappointing. However, local attorney Dan Viets and 41 other Columbia citizens have filed similar complaints with the review board and the board will have another chance to make the right decision. Here’s what needs to be done:
1. The specifics of Ed Rosenthal’s complaint were not looked at in the slightest. The only decision made last night was to accept Burton’s investigation and his policy changes. This didn’t address Ed’s questions of the officers’ handling of the arrestee or his suggestion that the officers undergo a psychological evaluation. Ed’s appeal needs to be reopened until his actual complaint is addressed.
2. To accept the investigation of the incident from the Chief of Police is complete folly. I wish that when I was busted in the dorms that the cops would have come to me and said, “Hey, listen. We think you broke the law, so we want you to investigate yourself and see if you violated any laws.” I guarantee my investigation would have concluded that my actions were according to law. We need an investigation conducted by a private investigator who is separate from the police department. Talk about a conflict of interest.
3. Speaking of conflicts of interest: Susan Smith needs to be dismissed from the board immediately. Smith is currently a professor of Criminal Justice at Columbia College and is involved in training members of the police force. It was clear from her actions and words last night, including refusing to let Rosenthal speak until after the vote (her idea, according to the Missourian), that she has an obvious bias to protect the police at any cost, and this bias disqualifies her from being eligible to hold a position on a citizen-run board that is supposed to impartially review the actions of police. Smith cannot be both teacher and judge to these policemen.
4. Allow public comment before the final decision is made. If this isn’t allowed because of how the ordinance reads, change the ordinance. The board was created to foster trust between citizens, law enforcement and the board itself. Silencing the public until after decisions have been made is going to only cause the public to feel as if their voice doesn’t matter.
Keep an eye on the Citizen’s Police Review Board, because this is just getting started folks.