The Columbia Police Department is willing to implement community policing citywide. However, it isn’t able to do so, according to a report on the topic authored by Sgt. Robert Fox and City Manager Mike Matthes.
The 348-page report, which was provided to Columbia City Council members on Wednesday, says the main obstacles to moving forward with this form of policing are staffing and pay.
“The community must provide the resources to create that ability if it wants policing to truly be community oriented,” the report states.
Fox spent five months, alongside other community leaders, researching for the report, which incorporates input from seven community policing public meetings held between May and June. A resolution passed at a council meeting in February directed Matthes to design a department-wide community policing program. Matthes tapped Fox to lead the process.
Fox said the report is scheduled to be discussed during the council’s meeting on Tuesday, and then revisions will begin. He said it is up to the city council to decide what to do with it. The report includes a transition plan, timeline and budget for modifying and expanding community policing in the city.
The proposed plan includes 12 recommendations to accomplish the transition, including:
Extending the School Resource Officer program to provide officers in middle schools and officer visits in elementary schools. Currently there are officers in Rock Bridge, Hickman and Battle High Schools, and one officer who splits time across middle schools and Douglass High School, according to the report.Expanding geographic policing department-wide and assigning officers to specific areas. The report suggests using a “chief of two blocks model,” which requires officers to make decisions about policing in their beat area. Identifying three to four of these small geographic beats to be “policed intensely,” using the Tucson Stress Index, which evaluates the level of need in neighborhoods. This was the same method used to identify the three focus neighborhoods in the city’s 2016-19 Strategic Plan.Increasing staffing by a total of 60 officers, 10 sergeants, three lieutenants and one assistant chief over five years.Increasing compensation for officers by a total of $11 million over five years.
Adopting these recommendations would require a total additional $19.5 million in the General Fund over the next five years, according to the report. The report states the city would need a property tax increase of .1891 cents each year to fund the plan.
The report states that “change, leadership, vision, partnership, problem solving, equity, trust, empowerment, and service,” should be the department’s principles for developing a close relationship with its community and neighborhoods served.
The department has been involved with community policing for years, to a smaller extent. Two officers were assigned to patrol the Douglass Park area by foot in 2012 after a series of violent crimes took place. Their goal was to build relationships with the community by talking with residents and to deter violent crime.
Crime began to drop, and the department hailed the experiment a success. Columbia Police expanded the program with the formation of “community outreach units” in 2015. Officers who are part of the outreach unit dedicate their shifts to patrolling their assigned neighborhoods in order to establish the same trusting relationship.
The report outlines how the department can implement that approach department-wide.
It highlights what it calls the department’s “excellent relationship” with the neighborhoods it polices. In 2017, the department received 52 complaints from citizen contacts after calls for service. Five of these complaints were sustained, according to the report.
According to the report, the department used less force and received fewer complaints in comparison to other cities.
Not all community members agree with this ‘’excellent performance.’’
President of racial equality and advocacy group Race Matters, Friends Traci Wilson-Kleekamp said the way the report reads now doesn’t accurately represent the strained relationship between the police and black communities.
She pointed to a line in the report that states the “violence connected to the distribution of marijuana has resulted in most of the homicides and dozens of shootings over the 10 years,” and notes that the victims were predominantly young black men. Wilson-Kleekamp described what she sees as “condescending language” toward the general public, particularly black communities.
“In my mind, the report by Fox deepens the divide,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “We are still at square one — denial about the impact of Columbia policing on communities of color.”
Fox said members of Race Matters, Friends have given their input at council meetings and in conversations with him, but that they did not have an official role in the report, since he said they are not considered a “community body.” The report’s appendix includes a policy report that the group authored.
“I think we have a good relationship with the black community,” Fox said. He acknowledged the relationship between the police and black communities is unique because of history, but he said from his 12 years of experience, the police officers assigned to predominantly black neighborhoods say they have good relationships with their areas.
The report also states that many television stations and other news outlets have a tendency to sensationalize and over-report on crime, which undermines the relationship between police and the public, and leaves the impression that violent crime is much worse than it is.
‘’Local news outlets lead nearly every broadcast with crime stories no matter where they happen; and, most days, they are reporting on crimes that occur outside of Columbia,’’ the report said.
Fox said that the important thing is that “the conversation isn’t over,” and that the city council will discuss this report in depth.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.
Community Oriented Policing Report August 2018