According to Deputy Chief Jill Schlude, the Community Outreach Unit’s efforts work.
They’re just not sustainable with current Columbia Police Department staffing levels.
“Really if the options are do nothing or try to evolve it somewhat and get it more spread out throughout the city, this is what we thought was a logical next step,” Schlude said.
CPD officials are considering an end to the Community Outreach Unit in 2019 in favor of embedding special “community response officers” in each of the city’s eight beats. CPD leaders refer to the approach as “problem oriented policing.”
For Schlude, it came down to the problem of having more officers hyper-dedicated to three small areas as opposed to the entire city.
The conversation to move to a problem-oriented policing model happened between Schlude, Chief Ken Burton and City Manager Mike Matthes. The three agreed that they needed to be realistic about their options and try a new approach.
“There’s a ready-made relationship that’s built that we can build on from the [outreach unit] to this citywide effort,’ she said. “[Problem-oriented policing] is really taking the time and resources to focus in on one problem and how we’re going to solve that problem.”
For Mayor Brian Treece, that new approach goes against everything the city has been working toward with the public this past year.
“I just don’t think disbanding the Community Outreach Unit gets the public what they wanted when it comes to the type of policing philosophy we want in Columbia, Missouri,” he said.
The Columbia City Council unanimously agreed to a resolution a year ago that directed Matthes to draft a community-oriented policing plan. Matthes put Sgt. Rob Fox in charge of it, and Fox spent the summer meeting with the public to get feedback and input on the plan. He released his draft report in September.
“The ink isn’t even dry on that plan yet and already it seems like we’re off in a different direction than what council and the public said they wanted,” said Treece. “Changing from community outreach to a community response unit seems the antithesis of that. It seems to be more reactionary and responsive, instead of proactive and preventative.”
Schlude said she is adamant there will still be community relationships created and fostered, just to a smaller degree with more emphasis on beats.
The idea is to put eight officers on the unit: one per each beat in the city. Each will serve as the point person for the problem-orientated policing plan. They would focus on problems that have required major police resources in the past, such as high calls for service or high calls for reports.
“We are under no illusion that eight officers can make up for the lack of discretionary time experienced by essentially an entire police department, but we believe it is a worthwhile effort considering the current budget strain we find ourselves in,” said Schlude.
Ward 4 Councilman Ian Thomas was one of the driving forces behind the original resolution. He told ABC 17 News on Monday that he was disappointed to see CPD turning away from that model.
“Officers of the COU have worked hard to create the foundation for an open and collaborative approach to public safety, and I shall advocate to continue building on that foundation,” he said.
The officers that are chosen for this new assignment will begin on or about Jan. 13.