Mayoral candidate proposes "outside look" at Columbia Police Department
COLUMBIA - With just over two months left before the April 2 Municipal Election, mayoral candidate Chris Kelly is calling for an immediate and comprehensive outside look at the Columbia Police Department.
"We have an opportunity, with the coming of a new chief, to find out, prior to the time the new chief arrives, what the problems are, what the strengths are, what we need to change," he said.
Mayor Brian Treece said he disagrees with Kelly's proposal.
"We have plenty of external data," he said. "Whether it's the vehicle traffic stop report from the Missouri Attorney General's office, or an employee satisfaction report that will come to council in February, or the toxicity report that's been on the city manager's desk for years."
Instead, Treece said, "what we need is swift action by the new city manager and the interim police chief to take steps that reform the police department."
Kelly called the proposal to reform the police department "a campaign issue."
"That's why we have elections, to change policy," he said. "That's the whole purpose on an election, is to discuss these public policy issues and find a way together to move forward."
Treece called Kelly's proposal "a campaign gimmick."
"We've been doing the hard work for the last two years and we've taken steps as a council to remove the two barriers, the former city manger and the police chief that stood in the way of meaningful reform of the police department, that stood in the way of moving forward on community-oriented policing," he said.
"You can go back and look at the number of meetings that we had, the public input at city council meetings, the number of closed sessions that the council had and draw your own conclusions," he said. "I can tell you that the management of the police department was one of the main reasons for the resignations."
Kelly said a new chief would not be enough to change the reality inside the police department.
"The systemic problems with the police department are not just a product of any given chief," he said. "Some of the problems are beyond the control of the chief. For instance, officer pay is not appropriate. We should be paying our police more, the best ones are being recruited away to other jobs."
Treece said the city has already taken steps to improve officers pay.
"Just in this last budget cycle the city council voted to move those police officers with five years of services or more to the mid-point of their salary range," he said. "I think that's a great way to retain veteran police officers."
Kelly said there's a need to recover people's trust in the work of the police department.
"We know that the vast majority of the police works hard to do a good job every day," he said. "But the fact remains that there are significant problems and a significant lack of confidence."
Treece, on the other hand, said Kelly's comment make the trust gap wider. The mayor said the work of the city government has actually increased communication and rapport between officers and the community.
"One of the reasons we've had a number of community-listen sessions, between our police and the community they serve, is to bridge the gap, so that there's greater understanding, not just from police officers about the community they serve, but about the community and what a typical day for a law enforcement officer is," he said.
In terms of the proposal of Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill, to merge law enforcement services in the city and county, Kelly said he is in favor of some sort of combination.
"The have a lot of similar units, domestic violence, property crime," he said. "For instance, the sheriff could do the property crimes and the city could do domestic violence or vice versa."
Treece said what's necessary is more collaboration at the command level between CPD and the Boone County Sheriff's Department.
"I'm opposed to any type of whole-sale merger or contracting out our police department to the county," he said. "We need to remain in control, our community needs to remain in control."