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Columbia police chief looks to move to precinct system

The Columbia Police Department will start to move to a precinct system over the next decade, according to chief Ken Burton.

The change had been on Burton’s mind since he took over as chief and was recommended by an outside consultant Columbia hired last year. But the change will be slow and expensive.

In an interview with ABC 17 News Wednesday, Burton said he experimented with neighborhood-based policing last summer after a violent spring stemming largely from the Douglass Park area.

“You saw something happen last summer that we had to duplicate this summer,” he said. “The community fell in love with the officers; the officers, in turn, fell in love with the community and so the positive things that happened down there just delighted me and we can duplicate that in other parts of the city.”

Under the current plan, which Burton calls pie-in-the-sky, the city will build a roughly $14.5 million station in the northeast corner of town shortly after 2015.

Ultimately, a second sub-station would open in the southwest corner of the city and the current department building downtown would undergo renovations or be leased.

Burton told ABC 17 News, each sub-station would also be built with a community room to encourage closer relationships with neighbors.

Such an expansion, though, requires the department to be fully staffed at all times.

“I actually do have a plan to catch us up and keep us caught up,” Burton said. “What I hope is that we’re not in the situation we’re in now where we don’t need many officers to get to the point where we feel like we’ve got adequate coverage for 24 hours days, 365 days a year.”

The first (northeast) sub-station has been included in the fiscal year 2014 Capital Improvement Plan for city council. City Manager Mike Matthes told council during a mini-retreat Wednesday that it had been included to make sure the conversation about the plan started this year.

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