City Council to vote on community policing resolution

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia City Council is expected to adopt a resolution declaring its support for community-oriented policing at its meeting Monday night. The resolution would define parameters of community-oriented policing and design a citywide program.

City Manager Mike Matthes appointed Sgt. Robert Fox to lead the effort. It's a new and temporary position - if the resolution is passed. 

“Rob’s interview just blew my socks off,” said Dale Roberts, Columbia Police Officers Association executive director. “He has a creative approach to policing, he is recognized as a natural leader within the department and he is widely respected as a SWAT instructor by his fellow officers.” 

The Columbia Police Department established the Columbia Outreach Unit in 2016.

It has a total of eight officers working in four high-crime neighborhoods. Officers Tony Parker and Maria Phelps work together in the Sylvan Lane and Quail Drive area in north Columbia. 

“Tony is great to work with,” Phelps said. “We are very different people but we are more like siblings than anything. There’s a lot of banter that goes back and forth. We joke around just continuously.” 

Phelps said she’s been an officer for about 5 years now and has been working on the unit for about six months. She said the job is all about bringing the community back together again.

“I think, as time has gone on, we have kind of lost that sense of community and so our goal is to rebuild that and let the community take itself back,” she said.

Not only are the two officers trying to make the community a safer place, but they’re also trying to make Blue Ridge Elementary School safer. Phelps said the students had a look of concern when she and Parker first started working there. But all of that has changed. 

“I think they look at us as friends right now,” Phelps said. “They come up to us and give us hugs. They like us. They tell us what’s going on. We have some good conversations with them.” 

She said she and Parker are focusing on helping students make the right choices in life. 

“Right now we’re really focusing on helping them make great decisions because we want them to have successful lives in the future and know how to handle things,” Phelps said.

Parker said the job is all about building friendships, and community policing goes "way beyond law enforcement."

“The job of a police officer is to enforce this book of laws, so we’re here to build friendships and relationships and communication with people," he said. "It’s a lot different.” 

The principal and vice principal at Blue Ridge Elementary School said they’re seeing the benefits of community policing at their school.

“I know in the beginning the parents would see the police vehicles out front and we would get calls - people would even come in and say, ‘is everything OK? What’s going on?’ and now you don’t get those questions,” Principal Kristen Palmer said. “It’s just the norm here.”

Vice principal Mark Burlison said having the officers is "awesome."

“I mean the chance that we got to have Tony and Maria jump onboard has been nothing but good stuff for us and our kids," he said. "Kids love them.” 

The Columbia City Council is expected to vote on the resolution at it’s Monday night meeting at 7 p.m.