CPRB undecided on misconduct definition

The board says it would rather discuss statute revisions with the police chief.
Citizens Police Review Board member Stephen Alexander rubs his forehead during discussion of the board's operating power Wednesday night. The board voted to postpone decision-making regarding statute language changes requested by Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton. 

Discussion regarding Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton’s request to redefine the powers of the Citizens Police Review Board stood at a standstill Wednesday night.

Burton’s proposed ordinance changes, an appeal to limit the scope of the definition of police misconduct, came a week after responding to the board’s handling of an excessive force case.

Burton’s recommended language revisions in Missouri state statute to classify misconduct as “excessive use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, or use of offensive language.”

CPRB Chairwoman Ellen LoCurto-Martinez said current language in the statute is clear and a change would not be a necessary.

“I really don’t see the need for an ordinance change,” LoCurto-Martinez said. “The task force who wrote the ordinance really worked hard to base their writing on the recommendations of the oversight committee, and I’m not comfortable trying to change that now.”

CPRB member Stephen Alexander said he did not understand why CPD was negotiating ordinance language with CPRB that might limit CPRB’s operating power.

“It seems a little odd to me that (CPD) is coming to us with language to control what we do,” Alexander said. “They can make recommendations, but I don’t think we necessarily have to just agree to them.”

The board voted to wait to vote on whether to approve the proposed changes until further discussion with Burton.

“It’s hard to have a discussion that reaches all the questions without the requester for this change in the room,” CPRB member Steve Weinberg said. “There’s certainly a couple sentences in his Dec. 1 memo to us that suggest it's an extreme narrowing has in mind.”

“I think if we want to get in his head a little bit more, we should defer our vote until we have someone who can answer to us,” Weinberg said.

Columbia Police Officers Association Director Eric Dearmont, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, said open negotiations might be healthy for both parties affected.

“We really value the opportunity to be able to sit down with you and discuss our concerns in a public, informal setting,” Dearmont said. “Everything I hear says that in order for civilian review to be successful, it has to be something that happens with the police, not to the police.”

The board also voted in favor of using budgeted funds to meet with a representative of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, or NACOLE, for a one day training session.

LoCurto-Martinez said NACOLE might offer a different viewpoint on working with CPD and City Council.

“Working with NACOLE will bring a national perspective to our local community,” she said. “They have dealt with similar issues to ours on a national scale, and I think it proves, if anything, that we aren’t in a vacuum.”

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