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Police chief talks recent shootings, body cameras at Citizens Police Review Board meeting

Police Chief Geoff Jones discussed the recent uptick in shootings downtown, understaffing and body cameras with the Citizens Police Review Board on Wednesday night.

Board members asked Jones multiple times what the Police Department was doing to address increasing community violence.

He said police have had several meetings with business owners downtown, looked into increasing lights and surveillance cameras in areas of concern and talked about providing more training across the board to prevent and de-escalate violence.

Board members also asked Jones to address the shooting in which five people were injured and police killed one man Nov. 14.

Jones gave an update on the investigation into the shooting, saying Missouri State Highway Patrol has taken over a portion of the investigation related to police involvement.

In addition, since there were multiple gunshots occurring at once, some from police officers, Jones said the agencies need to further investigate “who killed who.” However, at a news conference the day after the shooting, he said officers shot and killed one man, the Missourian previously reported.

Jones said Wednesday that since they are still waiting on ballistics reports, toxicology reports and witness interviews, there is no set timeline for when more information will be available.

Board member December Harmon read from comments received from a citizen who found the news conference didn’t improve community relations and instead placed the blame on citizens and the owner of Vibez Lounge, which was near where the shooting occurred.

Jones said he disagreed with that interpretation.

When asked what citizens can do to further prevent violence, Jones said “participate,” and that there are many contributing factors to situations like this such as food security, housing, child care and employment.

The board also debated police body cameras after hearing from Jones on the issue. Currently, the policy language says officers can turn off their cameras or mute them when talking to other officers, on breaks, engaged in personal activities and talking with undercover officers or confidential informants, as well as in places where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The board passed a motion to review the policy when it comes to talking to other officers and clarify what “engaged in personal activities” includes, and it debated the benefits of requiring body cameras to be on all the time when officers are in an active investigation.

In addition, the board created a public outreach committee to further educate the community on complaint and appeal policies and let citizens know the Citizens Police Review Board exists as a resource.

Jones also discussed staffing shortages at the Columbia Police Department and said officers have had to switch to 12-hour shifts instead of their typical 10-hour shifts. Some solutions police have started working on include improved recruiting and a shift in culture within the Police Department.

There’s also a continued need for and efforts to have mental health professionals who can respond to calls on their own or go along with police officers to calls, Jones said. He added that the city gave funding to the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department to staff some of these positions, but they are having trouble finding applicants, possibly due to low wages.

“We’re making progress. It’s slower than we like, but that’s where we’re at,” he said.

Lastly, Jones gave an update on restarting traffic violations for non-hazardous stops. There is currently a special ordinance in place that stops officers from pulling people over for things that don’t pose a danger, like expired tags. Jones said he plans to restart those stops once there is a chance to further educate officers on disparities and improve data collection processes during them.