ABC 17 News confirmed Friday from a leaked email that the Columbia Police Department is eliminating its Traffic Unit and moving those officers to the Community Outreach Unit.
A source told ABC 17 News that over the past several weeks, various options have been discussed to fill the remaining 4 positions in the Community Outreach Unit.
In an email sent Friday that was given to ABC 17 News from an unnamed source, Deputy Chief Jill Schlude said, “Patrol has already reallocated 2 officers and a sergeant to the unit and pulling more from there did not seem practical given our current staffing situation. Ultimately we felt that the best and most practical option was to reassign the officers in the traffic unit back to patrol.”
Each 2-person team in the community outreach unit will be assigned to a specific neighborhood to work in conjunction with other city departments.
“This is by no means a replacement for our ultimate goal of department-wide participation in community policing efforts, but it is a step in the right direction,” the email said.
It went on to say, “The two officers in the DWI Unit are funded by a grant and they will continue in those positions for the foreseeable future, but will be supervised by Patrol. I know this raises several questions about crash investigations, etc., but AC Gordon is working on a plan to incorporate those highly valuable skills into the Patrol Bureau.”
ABC 17 News talked to Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes earlier this week, who mentioned the need for officers in the community outreach unit.
“Traffic quite frankly in the scheme of things is just less important than calls about domestic abuse or a bar fight,” Matthes said. “We really focus on the folks behaving badly. That means speeding tickets are not a priority. If we’re out driving and we happen to see that we’ll enforce the law, of course, but it’s just less important.”
ABC 17 News reached out the Columbia Police Department to find out more information about the change and when it will take effect.
Schlude told ABC 17 News there is no set date for when the Traffic Unit will be eliminated, but said she believes everyone who is impacted will moved in the next 60 days or so.
ABC 17 News asked Schlude who would investigate or re-construct traffic crashes without the Traffic Unit. She said there are officers who are trained in accident reconstruction and they are considering training a few more. She said “they will simply be patrol officers who can also deal with serious crashes.”
Schlude went on to say, “Basically we will no longer have officers whose main purpose is to conduct traffic enforcement activities. Certainly this will have an impact on the number of citations that are written, but we had to make some tough decisions and making cuts to already overburdened patrol officers or detectives did not seem practical.”
The traffic unit is currently staffed by one sergeant and four officers,” Schlude said. “The unit has had one vacant officer spot for several months. Two of the four officers currently in the unit are assigned to DWI Enforcement, which are grant funded positions and cannot be altered without losing the grant, which would mean the loss of those positions.”