Columbia Police Officers' Association responds to calls for chief to resign

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COLUMBIA -Following a report showing racial disparities in traffic stops, some residents are calling for police chief Ken Burton to resign, saying there is not enough community-oriented policing.

But one organization says it's not the chief's fault for the lack of community-oriented policing, but a simple case of a shortage of officers.

The Missouri Attorney General's office released the 2016 Vehicle Stops Report June 1. It shows vehicles pulled over by authorities in different categories such as race of driver, stop, age, etc.

In Columbia, the data showed black drivers were 45 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, president of Race Matters, Friends called for Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton to resign. She says the lack of community-oriented policing is partially to blame for the large disparity in traffic stops.

"We have been coming to city council since August of 2015 asking that the council embrace a philosophy of community-oriented policing," Wilson-Kleekamp said. "If we were doing community-oriented policing we wouldn't be having this conversation because he'd be doing his job and apparently he can't do it."

Dale Roberts, executive director of the Columbia Polic Officers' Association, said it isn't directly Burton's fault there aren't many police officers reaching out to the community. He said the department has an active community outreach unit, but there just aren't enough officers to do it as effectively as they want. 

"Columbia has grown fairly quickly and over the years the city has just not kept up with adding police officers to correspond to the growth," Roberts said. "Community policing is far more labor intensive. You get out of your car, walk up and down the street and talk to the people in your neighborhood. Right now according to the Department of Justice we are short 50 officers."

Rachel Taylor spoke at the meeting and said the traffic stop rate is so much higher for black people because the department engages in racial profiling.

"I really believe that our police officers are out there trying to do a good job," Taylor said. "But they are caught in a system that is keeping them stuck in structural racism, and what they need is a strong leader to bring them out."

Roberts said traffic violations fall more heavily on low-income people because they might not be able to afford keeping their car updated and in good working condition.

"If you have limited income maybe you can't afford to get your license plate renewed or tail light fixed when you're supposed to," Roberts said. 

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