COLUMBIA − Both returning and new members of Columbia’s Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB) are meeting Wednesday evening for the first of two training sessions after a nearly six-month pause.

The city council voted to suspend the CPRB meetings in August 2022 after months of infighting, resignations and a small number of appeals.

Previous KOMU 8 coverage of the CPRB indicated some of the previous board members' biggest concern was feeling like they did not have enough training. 

"It's been frustrating, because I don't know what to what to expect," said Laura Gutiérrez Pérez, a returning board member. "And just with everything that's been going on since our pause, I don't really have a lot of confidence in leadership in providing us with any information that I think will really help us to actually be a civilian oversight board." 

According to Mayor Barbara Buffaloe, these trainings are a step in the right direction.

"We've never had so many new members starting at the same time," Buffaloe said. "We felt that this was important to do, everybody all together, for existing members who maybe didn't get all of the onboarding that older members did, as well as our new members who haven't had any onboarding. 

Buffaloe will serve as chair of the meeting Wednesday night. She shared how leading the meeting aligns with her priority of having effective and efficient boards and commissions.

"The reason why I think I got into this, is that it's important. Since they don't have a chair right now, it's important, obviously, that they have somebody leading the meeting," Buffaloe said. "And as the mayor, leading meetings is one of my main jobs."

The attitude of most of the incoming board members is mostly hopeful, despite the board's reputation. In fact, that was a motivator for some. 

"I had seen that there's been a lot happening with this board over the last year or so, maybe a little longer even," said Reece Ellis, an incoming CPRB member. "And, you know, these issues of policing are especially relevant, more so every, every single year. I originally come from an area that's near Ferguson. So, you know, these issues are kind of near and dear to my heart. So it just made sense. This was a place where I could bring that life experience and also get involved in my new community."

For incoming member Brandon Barnes, he said his experience living as an African American man has shaped his views on police accountability.

"There was one time when I was in high school where there was an issue with the police, and they were wrong," Barnes said. "They were 100% wrong. The community was wrong. And, you know, I believed that, had I not been who I was and where I grew up, and my family being, they were involved in as involved as they were with that, it could have been a bad situation for myself and a friend of mine. And so I think those people needed to be held accountable. And I still think they do."

The return of the CPRB comes less than a month after the murder of Tyre Nichols, which garnered national attention. Five Black Memphis police officers are charged in connection to his death.

One community activist with Race Matters Friends, a nonprofit striving to achieve racial equity in Columbia, says the frequency of police violence continues to reveal flaws in the system. 

"If anything, the Tyre Nichols situation is just an affirmation, that policing as it stands right now, in my opinion, in our opinion, is a failure," RMF President Traci Wilson-Kleekamp said.

According to Wednesday's meeting agenda, the first training session will cover preliminary topics such as board operations and the Sunshine Law.

Wednesday's training session is open to the public and will take place at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. 

Buffaloe confirmed that there is not a set date for the first official CPRB meeting, but she did confirm that the board will likely elect a new chair and vice chair on that date.

The mayor also noted that CPD representatives, as well as some original CPRB founders, may be present at the second training on Feb. 8.

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