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Columbia Discusses Community Policing, Racial Disparities At Traffic Stops During Town Hall

Nearly 100 community members tuned into a virtual town hall Saturday night to discuss issues surrounding policing in Columbia and propose potential solutions.

“Part of the discussion will focus on how this community moves forward,” co-organizer Rebecca Shaw of CoMo for Progress said. “(This is) following years of advocates asking the city and police for specific changes to their policies to better inform an anti-racist philosophy around community policing and, now, nightly protests of new voices asking for many of the same changes.”

The event was hosted by Race Matters, Friends; Worley Street Roundtable; CoMo For Progress; Columbia Supreme; Faith Voices of Columbia; the WE Project; and the People’s Defense. Worley Street Roundtable board member Brittany Fatoma was the moderator of the town hall.

It was a chance for Columbians to “have an authentic conversation about rethinking and redesigning policing, where the community is in charge of the conversation instead of the politicians,” Race Matters, Friends, President Traci Wilson-Kleekamp said, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones and Interim MU Police Chief Brian Weimer attended the town hall and answered questions. Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey was invited but did not attend.

“We’re also talking to the MU Police Department to discuss their plans for addressing the possibility of increased tensions on campus, both within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19,” Shaw said.

At the beginning of the town hall, community members discussed the high rate at which Black drivers are pulled over in Columbia.

In 2019, Black drivers were stopped 4.3 times more frequently than white drivers in both Columbia and Boone County, according to Missouri Attorney General’s 2019 Vehicle Stops Executive Summary.

While only 11% of Columbia’s population was Black, 35% of all drivers pulled over by Columbia police in 2019 were Black, according to previous Missourian reporting. Black drivers were 1.7 times more likely to be searched and 1.3 times more likely to be arrested than white drivers.

Based on the high racial disparity in vehicle stops in Columbia, Jones said the records management system the Columbia Police Department uses is inadequate.

“We are collecting some data, but we’re not even, at this point, able to collect what the attorney general is asking us to collect because our vendor has not set up our records management system to do that,” Jones said. “We’ve actually had to ask for an extension from the attorney general.”

Jones also said the department has requested a study from MU that examines the decision-making process of why police officers stop some vehicles over others.

The results will help both of the Vehicle Stop Committee and department train officers, he said.

“It’s a work in progress. It’s not moving as fast as I hoped,” Jones said, “but I also don’t want to move so fast that I’m missing something.”

Weimer also said MU police’s system has been challenging.

“We had to create some different things to make sure that we’re able to track what was going on,” he said.

Another key question was if the Columbia police and MU police have developed anti-racist curriculum specific to the department’s culture and demographics.

The answer was no.

“We currently do not have an anti-racist training,” said Lt. Michael Hestir, who is in charge of training at the Columbia department. “I’m not saying we won’t.”

Hestir said the department’s training focuses on “anti-bias.”

The Fourth Ward Columbia City Council Member Ian Thomas also joined the town hall discussion. He wrote in the chat box, “As a member of the City Council, I support the development and implementation of an anti-racism training program for Columbia Police Department employees.”

City Manager John Glascock expressed his willingness to reestablish the Police Department’s Community Outreach Unit in a presentation of his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Glascock also said he wanted to let uniformed police officers take the responsibility for parking enforcement instead of meter attendants to promote community policing downtown.