Columbia Police Interim Chief Geoff Jones discusses past, future
COLUMBIA - Interim Chief Geoff Jones knows the halls of the Columbia Police Department well. He's been walking them for more than 20 years.
"I've worked in patrol, I've worked the central part of city," Jones said. "I've worked as an evidence person...eventually I went into work in our narcotics unit as a plain clothes detective."
But, the chief's office is brand new to him. He took over the interim leadership role in January after former chief Ken Burton resigned. He stepped down in December 2018 after being placed on administrative leave. During Burton's tenure, the department was described as toxic and multiple groups called for his resignation.
"I get a lot of questions about Chief Burton," Jones said. "He did a lot of good things, it wasn't all negative...I think it's very important to share some of the power and authority that we have with the people that are doing the work and I think that's something that I do very well."
Chief Jones sat down with KOMU 8's Emily Spain to talk about taking over the helm in shaky waters. With two months under his belt, he said he's already made changes like setting new expectations for how employees treat and communicate with each other along with reallocating resources and allowing officers in on command staff meetings.
But change isn't always easy.
"The hardest part is overcoming the past. Overcoming perceptions of things that have happened. Overcoming some communication issues in the police department. Those are probably the hardest."
Since Chief Jones got promoted, new morale surveys show that 76 percent of officers surveyed said their morale improved or significantly improved. But Jones said he doesn't want all the credit.
"It's really about giving the people that are very good at leading people the opportunity to lead people, being transparent about decision making. I keep saying there's no secrets. And I think the officers feel empowered because they know that I expect them to go enforce the law," he said. "And they don't feel that cloud over them like they had in the past."
In the long term, Jones hopes to change the structural organization of the police department to get back to community policing and keep officers in specific beats. And he said he's not letting the "interim" title keep him from continuing his efforts.
"We're going to keep moving forward. We have to move forward so that our police department is what it was when I came here in 1998 and that's going to require our officers to go out and meet people where they are."
He said the best part of the job is seeing people happy coming to work. But, he's still not sure if he wants it full time.
"If I'm doing well and the community feels like we're moving in the right direction and the officers feel empowered to do things and we're making positive change, but if my leadership style doesn't contribute the way I hope that it will then I'll go do something else," Jones said. "I'm not doing this for a title or a paycheck, I'm doing this because it's the right thing to do."
When asked about whether CPD would ever merge with the Boone County Sheriff's Office, he said that's not likely.
"I don't believe that will ever happen, " he said. "I don't think anybody ever really seriously considered that the sheriff would take over the city...it wouldn't happen under our current form of government. But, I think what we have now is improving as far as our relationship with the county."
He also addressed sets of data showing racial disparities in traffic stops.
"I have asked to form a committee to look at all the information that's out there, see where the gaps are," he said adding that he feels the current data is inadequate. "So, I've asked people in this committee to come up with data, gaps and solutions together so we don't have this constant back and forth."
Chief Jones said he expects it will take at least a year before a permanent replacement for chief is made.