Fostering better relationships between citizens and law enforcement

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COLUMBIA - Each day interactions between law enforcement and citizens are constantly taking place. Branden Tatum said he had his first experience with law enforcement as he was making his way home one day after midnight.

Tatum said he was pulled over on Rock Quarry Road by Columbia police for speeding. He said he expected the officer to come to his window and ask for ID and insurance but he didn't. Instead, Tatum said he was asked to turn off his car, take out his keys and step out of the car. He said what happened next surprised him.

"They made me get out of the car, walk backwards to the sound of their voice and that's when I so happened to glance back and I seen like numerous amounts of cops pointing guns at me," Tatum said. 

Tatum said although the experience wasn't going as he expected, he made sure to comply with everything the officers told him to do. He said he thinks a few factors that played into his law enforcement experience going as it did was the fact he didn't stop immediately, he was driving a sports car, and that it was after midnight.

Boonville Chief of Police Bobby Welliver said no matter how the situation may be going for those involved, compliance is key. 

"I think our number one expectation is for the public to comply with what the officer's asking them to do. That's the number one safety issue for the officer and the citizen," Welliver said. 

Welliver said there have been bad experiences, he says about 90% of interactions between law enforcement and citizens have gone well during his 20 plus years with the department. 

Columbia has helped to foster better relationships between its law enforcement and citizens with its Citizens Police Review Board. Jim Martin, chair of the board, said this has helped give a sense of confidence to citizens.

"I think it serves as a...sort of a unit for the citizens who can bring their complaints or the review of their complaints to a board or...to a board that looks at the facts and stands as an alternative to just the police department decision," Martin said. 

Martin said citizens are given a year from the date of the incident to file a citizens complaint form. 

Welliver said citizens should wait until everything is said and done to take action if he or she feels they were treated unfairly.

"After the fact, you can certainly file a complaint with the police department. If you don't feel like that doesn't get anywhere, you, generally, you can file a complaint with the city council or the city administration," Welliver said. 

Welliver also said there are ways law enforcement can continue to improve as well.

"With all the things that are going on in Missouri and nationwide, and its probably time to reevaluate some of the things we've done in the past and maybe make changes and we're open to the changes," Welliver said.

Tatum said after this first experience, he doesn't have the same thoughts about law enforcement as he once did. 

"I though the law enforcement, they were, I guess not as aggressive as I would've thought. That they're here for the people but then when it happened to me that's when I feel like my thoughts changed," Tatum said. 

He said although it wasn't a positive experience for him, he did take away one important lesson.

"Just be cooperative. Don't...well even though you can be cooperative, they still can sort of turn that around on you, still be agressive, but...just try to be cooperative," Tatum said. 

For more information on what is expected of both law enforcement and citizens during various interactions, citizen rights, and more, check out www.aclu.org

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