The Columbia Police Department is considering dismantling its Community Outreach and Downtown Units and replacing them with a Community Response Unit by Jan. 1, 2019, Columbia Police Officer’s Association Spokesperson Dale Roberts told ABC 17 News Saturday.
The new unit would need less dedicated officers, so six would return to patrol.
COU and the Downtown Unit have a total of 14 officers and two sergeants dedicated to them right now.
The CRU would have 8 officers and two sergeants: One sergeant and four officers would be assigned to the South District, and the same number would be assigned to the North District.
The department’s discussions “centered around staffing and overall resource allocation in times when budgets are tight and the likelihood of adding more sworn positions is slim,” Columbia Deputy Chief of Police Jill Schlude said in an email to her staff. “But we want to continue to move forward with the application of geographic-based problem solving in partnership with the community.”
“We still struggle with turnover, a fair amount of turnover in the department,” Columbia Police Officer’s Association Spokesperson Dale Roberts said. “It’s hard to predict how this is going to work out, it’s going to rely on implementation, from what I’ve heard from some of the officers, there has been some hesitancy to volunteer for this unit I think partly because the officers don’t know exactly what it’s going to be.”
Schlude alluded to the decision being difficult but said that “by doing this we believe we have an opportunity to expand our efforts citywide, while still having the ability to focus on solving specific problems that drive call volume, reports, complaints, violence, and impact the quality of life in our city.”
Several other cities follow similar models, but the deputy chief didn’t name them in her email.
Schlude said she met with the CPOA President Alan Mitchell and agreed the 8 officer and 2 sergeant positions would need to be open to everyone and reapplied for. The email also said those who are selected will move at the bid switch over in January.
ABC 17 News previously reported in 2017 that crimes had gone down in neighborhoods with community outreach programs.
However, Roberts said, “The COU would operate in a specific area and crime would go down in that area, but often times it would go up in another neighborhood.”