COLUMBIA - Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas issued a statement to the Columbia Police Officers Association (CPOA) on Wednesday morning addressing his claim he made about police treatment to the public, specifically referring to people of color.
During a discussion about a community-oriented policing report on Monday, Thomas said, "There are serious violations occurring to people of color, have been for generations, but there are bruised feelings on the discussions of those issues on the side of police officers."
CPOA sent out a press release late Tuesday night, which said Thomas' allegation was outrageous and unsupported. It called on Thomas to provide evidence to back up his claim.
Executive Director, Dale Roberts, said there are rumors regarding officer interaction with people of color, but no substantiating evidence to prove Thomas' claims.
He said all officers use body cams and that footage is reviewed to make sure everything is done according to the law.
"There have been people who have filed complaints and upon review of the body camera footage, we'll admit, okay it didn't happen," Roberts said.
CPOA said this is not the first time Thomas has leveled such an accusation against police. The police union cited a newsletter where Thomas said it was important to "put an end to the excessive use of force by police officers."
The statement from the police union said residents should expect more from their councilman at a time when officer turnover is high and morale within the department is low. CPOA also said Thomas owed local officers an apology for his allegation.
KOMU 8 News reached out to Thomas early Wednesday morning to get his reaction. Here's his statement:
In response to your complaint about my statement during Monday’s City Council meeting, I apologize to all Columbia Police Department officers for giving the impression that I was criticizing them, which was not my intention at all. In fact, I was speaking in general terms, but I recognize my error in using careless language, and I wish to take this opportunity to emphasize my support for the courageous and difficult work undertaken by officers every day. As a member of the City Council, one of my goals is to improve officer safety and public respect for officers through better police-community relations.
The point I was making was that I was disappointed that the tone of Sgt. Fox’s plan/report at times embodies an “us versus them” mentality, when community policing requires a positive spirit of collaboration between police professionals and the general public. This is a complicated time as we work to improve local police-community relations in the shadow of a national conversation about police use of force in communities of color. Police departments across the country have been under attack in recent years from anti-racism activists who point to documented violations, and it is understandable that there are bruised feelings on the part of police officers. However, I believe that we need to move past these challenges and look to the future, in order to achieve our vision of safe communities and well-respected public safety officers."
KOMU was with Roberts when he first heard of Thomas' response to CPOA.
"Basically he has withdrawn his criticism, his allegation, and said that there's no proof of any violation. He's referred to national issues, which has nothing to do with the Columbia police," Roberts said.
Wilma Blair, a member of Restoration of Life Ministries, was one of many residents who shared her point of view with the councilmen on Monday evening. She said there needs to be mutual respect when it comes to community policing.
"Sometimes the way they treat black people is not fair. I'd rather hear them talk to a dog the way they talk to some of them. Some of the poor white people, they talk to them the same way," Blair said.
She said she would be more supportive of community officers if there was enough trust, but she has had more than one negative experience.
"If you're gonna treat me ignorant and like I don't know anything because of the color of my skin, or where I live at, then why should I help you? Because that's way the people that are in my neighborhood and in the neighborhood that I live in," Blair said. "They don't want to talk to nobody anymore because y'all have done hurt them. In order to get their trust back, you're going to have to give them some respect too."