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What Kind of a Policing does Columbia Want?

August 14, 2016

Dear Constituent:

Many thanks if you were one of the 104 constituents who responded to my Policy Priorities survey in June - here are results.

One very popular proposal (80% support or strongly support, 14% neutral) is to engage the community in a transparent planning process to set goals and develop a strategic plan for the Columbia Police Department (CPD), that are supported by voters.

The Department currently faces several major inter-dependent challenges:

  1. CPD is understaffed/overworked, officer morale is low, and recruitment is difficult.
  2. Officers describe an internal culture of blame and punishment, with mentorship and nurturing of less experienced officers discouraged.
  3. There is a dysfunctional relationship between CPD/City of Columbia management and the Columbia Police Officers' Association (CPOA).
  4. The Attorney General's annual "Vehicle Stops Report" shows racial disparities in CPD's traffic stops and searches, which may indicate implicit bias or profiling.
  5. Some senior CPD leaders and City administrators appear to be uncomfortable discussing America's history of racial discrimination and how it impacts modern social issues.
  6. Many community residents want CPD to adopt a community policing philosophy, which requires higher levels of staffing and training, and yields multiple societal benefits including enhanced crime prevention.
  7. Residents have low confidence in CPD leadership as demonstrated by the rejection of a proposed property tax increase in 2014.

Against a national backdrop of tension and violence between police officers and community residents, these challenges represent an extremely serious threat to Columbia. Therefore, it is essential that the City Council address the challenges of CPD understaffing, low morale, racial disparities in stops and searches, and low confidence in leadership.

With all of this in mind, I have developed a proposal for a comprehensive collaborative visioning process for the Columbia Police Department and community residents. Briefly, I envision the following two-step process.

Step 1 - Define the Process:

  • City Council appoints a steering committee of 12-15 key community stakeholders.
  • Steering committee meets for 2-3 months to define an open, transparent and engaging community process that addresses each of the challenges listed above.
  • City Council adopts the committee's recommendations for the planning process and moves to Step 2.

Step 2 - Implement the Process (since the process will be defined by the steering committee, the following are simply suggestions):

  • Name the process, “What Kind of a Policing does Columbia Want?”
  • Schedule multiple community gatherings in different neighborhoods over a 6-12 month period.
  • Attract 50-100 people to each meeting and tackle one topic at a time - racial disparities, community policing, officer morale, etc.
  • Engage skilled facilitator(s) to manage programs that could include brief informational presentations from experts followed by “World Cafe” style table discussions with all ideas captured and analyzed.
  • Steering committee continues to oversee process, review police officer reaction to community ideas, and develop long-term recommendations.

The people of Columbia want CPD to be stable, successful, and fully funded for the difficult and dangerous job we expect its officers to perform. I believe a process like this will accomplish that - in fact, I think it's the only way!

Please let me know what you think about this proposal and whether you believe it would be beneficial for Columbia.

City of Columbia 2017 Fiscal Year Budget:

The City’s 2017 fiscal year (FY-17) starts on October 1st, 2016.

Over the next 6 weeks, there will be multiple opportunities for you to review and provide testimony on the City Manager’s proposed budget and several City Council sponsored amendments:

  • Mon., August 15 (7:00 pm): City Council meeting includes budget presentation and public hearing
  • Sat., August 20 (8:00 am - 5:00 pm): City Council work session (open to public, but NOT a public hearing) focused on budget discussion
  • Tues., September 6 (7:00 pm): City Council meeting includes budget presentation and public hearing
  • Mon., September 19 (7:00 pm): City Council meeting includes budget presentation, public hearing, and vote

One of my amendments is to maintain the City’s funding support for Columbia Access Television (CAT-TV) at $50,000, whereas the City manager has proposed cutting it to $25,000.

The City of Columbia receives about $600,000/year in cable television franchise fees and exercises its authority to require local cable operators (Mediacom and Charter) to set aside channels for public, educational, or governmental ("PEG") broadcasting. Founded in 2004, CAT-TV is the “public access” component of “PEG” and, for five years, had a contract with the City to provide public access programming in return for $200,000/year (about one-third of the total franchise fee).

Since that contract expired, some City Council members and staff have pushed to reduce or eliminate CAT-TV’s City funding, and it declined to $100,000 for FY-15 and $50,000 in FY-16. During this time, the CAT-TV board and staff have worked hard to replace some of that lost funding, but a further cut might well lead to the organization closing its doors.

I believe CAT-TV is a valuable community asset whose broadcasting service is essential for the operation of a fair and functioning local democracy in the face of an onslaught of commercial media. In addition to providing a platform for any local interest group, non-profit, or individual to produce and broadcast quality TV programs at a very low cost, CAT-TV runs training programs that help hundreds of people (many of them kids from low-income neighborhoods) develop soft and hard communication skills and increased job readiness.

Please let me know whether you support or oppose my position on CAT-TV funding.

Constituent Conversations

With my apologies, travel for work has forced me to cancel my planned Constituent Conversations session on Sunday, August 21st. As a result my next two Constituent Conversations will be held on September 4th and 25th. If you need to speak with me before then, please email me.

Cheers, Ian