In the news

Shooting Death of Clarence Coats

May 23, 2017

Dear Constituent:

I am writing to express my sorrow over the recent death of Clarence Coats, who was shot by an officer of the Columbia Police Department 10 days ago.

As has been reported in local media articles (see below), Mr. Coats fired shots at police from the roof of a building before being killed. His mother, Wanda Coats, later told reporters that a mental breakdown led to his behavior. Following Department policy, the officers involved have been placed on administrative leave and the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control is conducting an investigation.

As an elected member of the Columbia City Council, I feel it is important for me to make a public statement about this incident. The shooting death of a Black Columbia resident by a police officer raises public policy questions related to police “use of force,” racial disparities, and gun control, among other difficult issues. Without being an expert on any of these topics, I want to share my understanding that Columbia Police Department’s “use of force policy" is well-regarded by experts, that Police Chief Ken Burton led the effort to develop and adopt that policy several years ago, and that it was followed correctly in this situation.

I believe it would be very beneficial for the community to have a better understanding of the "use of force policy," to hear from police administrators why (for example) shooting with the intent to disable an active shooter is not considered a good practice, and to be given the opportunity to provide feedback on the policy. This sort of police-community engagement is at the very heart of a comprehensive community-oriented policing philosophy, which many Columbia residents and organizations have called for.

With that in mind, I intend to make a formal request for some kind of community outreach on this topic at the next City Council meeting.

Ian Thomas