Local group sees problems in city's 'Listening Tour' Report

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COLUMBIA - The city's been having a lot of conversation about racial profiling but how much work is actually getting done? One group says not enough.

The city council told city officials on Nov 6. to continue getting community input regarding racial disparity in traffic stops.

This comes after a year-long "Listening Tour," in which city officials were to meet with community groups and provide the council with a report that included a list of recommendations on decreasing the disparity.

"I think a lot of people felt heard which is good," said Race Matters, Friends Secretary Rachel Taylor.

However, Taylor says the city didn't turn those concerns into concrete recommendations.

"I don't think that the [report] took the concerns of the citizens seriously and offered true solutions to issues that they brought up," Taylor said.

Another complaint the group had was the city spending a portion of the report discussing policies it already had in place rather than focusing on developing new ones.

"In my opinion, the whole point of the listening tour was to find things that need to be changed," said Taylor. "The city patting itself on the back and saying we're already doing what we need to do is not the outcome I wanted."

Columbia Community Relations Director Steve Sapp says that the city included past initiatives, such as requiring officers to wear body cameras and establishing a citizens review board, to remind people that they are listening and changing for the better.

"I think for us it was being able to show that we have implemented various things that the community has suggested," Sapp said. "We have put those in action."

Sapp also pointed to the lowering of the Columbia Police Department's education requirement as an example of the city taking community input seriously.

"One thing we heard to try to bring more diversity to our law enforcement was to lower the educational requirement." Sapp said. "We've lowered those requirements because we know college isn't for everybody."

The city's use of ambiguous terms like "explore," "analyze" and "consider" was also the focus of concern.

"Exploration and consideration are not action," Taylor said.

However, Sapp says this was done intentionally. While the city is responsible for making recommendations, the city council is responsible for creating the actual policy.

"The city council is our public policy arm" Sapp said. "Their duties are to implement policies and changes that are better for the community."

The Columbia NAACP assisted the city in planning the meetings on the "Listening Tour." President Mary Ratliff said that while it may take some time, the city is making progress.

"I do believe we are on the right track to get some permanent things done." Ratliff said. "I think we are positioned to make some things happen in Columbia."

For Ratliff, no matter how long it takes, the goal is simple.

"The main thing is to reduce racial profiling," Ratliff said. 

The local NAACP chapter will hold a "Community Engagement" meeting to discuss the report and the recommendations made on Nov. 28.

According to Sapp, the city will continue searching for public comment for "roughly 60 days," before sending another report to the city council for further review.