Columbia residents push for a new method of policing

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COLUMBIA - Some Columbians are looking to create a closer relationship with law enforcement officers. They plan to do this through a technique called "community policing".

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) defines community policing as:

"A philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime."

Race Matters, a local organization, has been working with the city to allow the Columbia Police Department to adopt this idea. One member, Carl Kenny, said community policing would help the community get a step closer to ending racial disparities.

"I think it can be a positive way of minimizing the divide between the community and the police department," Kenny said. "That community will be engaged with the police department, rather than the police department assigning a strategy exclusive from that community."

Race Matters has worked closely with the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence on this topic. Along with presentations at task force meetings, members have also spoken during recent city council meetings.

"There's so much that we can do as a community to support the police department as they build their community policing model," Kenny said. "I think first we have to get some answers from city management and the police department relating to how they define community policing."

For more than one year, Race Matters sought efforts for the city to implement community policing. Kenny said in the past, they've been told repeatedly that the city simply doesn't have enough funds to officially move on this idea.

However, the September 2015 city newsletter describes CPD in language similar to the definition of community policing. CPD Public Information Officer Bryana Larimer referred to CPD's current policing technique as "a responsive trioge" rather than community policing.

Councilwoman Laura Nauser said regardless of what it seems on the outside, the mayor's task force on community violence has been working toward finding a way around this issue. 

"We are listening to them, but you know speaking of what we’ve been doing on the Mayor’s Task force for community violence. We are moving ahead with an update. So, we’ll have an opportunity for the community to come and see just where we are on that timeline and all of the recommendations. Where we are with the city," Nauser said.

Along with the possibility of additional training days, community policing has more that goes into it before it can actually start moving.

"For community policing to be successful you have to have enough staff in order to have it," Larimer said. 

She said in order for community policing to be successful in Columbia, officers need to be able to have time to go into the community to start building the relationships.

The council recently approved $100,000 of the city budget to go toward community policing efforts in Columbia. It has not specified how the money will be used.

Kenny said hopefully this is enough to get them started, but progress can happen either way.

"I don't think that the things that can be done are neccesarily attatched to the budget. I think that we can begin a conversation about how to use available resources within our community that are not attached to the police department's budget," Kenny said. 

Members from Race Matters will continue to speak at city council meetings on issues like community policing in efforts to alleviate racial disparities in the community.