The Columbia Police Department has come under scrutiny for a claim Police Chief Ken Burton made during the July 19 City Council Meeting. Burton stated that he believed the Columbia Police Department did not racially profile its citizens.
Burton’s comment was challenged both by some council members and citizens at the meeting, including members of the group Race Matters, Friends, a group of organizers and activists working towards racial equity in Columbia.
“So the conversation became about the attorney general’s report on vehicle stop reports because that showed
a clear pattern of disparity,” Race Matters, Friends member Rachel Taylor said, “and so for us, when the Chief of Police said racial profiling doesn’t exist, we said, well, clearly something is happening, here’s the data, and then they agreed that we could analyze the data more.”
Taylor says one of its members Tara Warne-Griggs, offered to analyze the stop report data and the department agreed.
A little over a week after the city council meeting, Chief Burton met with Race Matters, Friends to discuss implicit biases and racial profiling on July 26.
According to minutes of the meeting documented by Race Matters, Friends, Burton stated that in his heart, he believed that racial profiling did occur at the CPD and that it should be stopped. Burton did not respond to requests for an interview for this story or for requests to confirm or clarify the notes from the July 26 meeting.
But, according to the meeting minutes, Burton also said there isn’t actually enough data to prove profiling does happen in the CPD, and the department rarely receives internal complaints about racial profiling.
KBIA decided to investigate the second claim. KBIA looked into all 40 complaints to the police department between March and mid-September. Three of those 40 complaints alleged police officers engaged in either racial profiling or adhered to stereotypes about black residents.
According to Internal Affairs Sgt. Brian Tate, each complaint filed to the police goes through the same process once the department receives it.
“When the complaints are taken in and we determine that the officer they’re alleging misconduct on an officer, we enter it into our software system, we have a tracking software system indicating that is an active case. The officer is notified of the complaint regarding what policies they are being investigated for,” Tate said.
After the complaint is investigated, the investigation goes through the chain of command, with the Chief of Police deciding on disciplinary actions if the officer is found guilty. The outline for this procedure is found in the city ordinance.
Of the three complaints found, two of the complaints were determined to be unfounded, or not verified. The events described in the third complaint, a speeding violation, were proven to be true. However, the officer was exonerated because it was determined that his actions were within the law and that he did not profile the resident that filed the complaint.
One of Race Matters, Friends’ goals for the CPD is an expansion of its community outreach program. Currently, six officers and one sergeant maintain the program. Sgt. Michael Hestir heads the program. He also teaches fair and impartial police training sessions.
“What we’ve done with fair and impartial policing is try to present the officers the science of human bias because our police officers are human beings so they can recognize it in themselves or in other people that they deal with and make sure that they’re making decisions based on the law, the circumstances and policy, rather than implicit bias they may not have previously recognized,” Hestir said.
Hestir would also like to expand the community outreach program to the entire department. However, that requires funding, and the CPD doesn’t have the funds to expand the program.
“Currently our patrol officers, who work very hard, they’re just going call to call. There’s no time to really dig down and invest and with more funds, more personnel, that’s where I would invest those additional funds,” Hestir said.
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, the president of Race Matters, Friends believes that a city-wide community policing policy and a fully staffed police department would help diminish racial profiling. She also believes cultural competency training is also necessary for the department.
“I don’t want anyone to think that because we want culturally competent cops, because we want there to not be disparities in arrests that we’re against the police. We have to stop that kind of nonsense talk. We want to have a 21st century police department,” Wilson-Kleekamp said.