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Columbia police chief clarifies new community policing model

Chief Ken Burton insisted that the new unit dedicated to community policing in Columbia will work, despite no new officers being dedicated to it yet.

CPD plans to dissolve two units, including the eight-officer Community Outreach Unit, and create a new Community Response Unit. The new unit will consist of eight officers and two supervisors, similar to the staffing of the COU, and assign one officer to each of the city’s eight “beat” areas. Both north and south Columbia will be supervised by a sergeant.

Burton said the model will help bring the positive work the COU did to the whole city. The unit previously only worked in four specific neighborhoods. Burton said the CRU officers will work on tackling problems the beat officers and residents identify in the area.

“It was very effective in the neighborhoods where it was,” Burton said. “I don’t think that spreading them out thin is going to necessarily help us in that regard, but it’s what we got to work with.”

Burton said the news media, including ABC 17 News, got hold of the internal memo announcing the change before the department had a chance to inform city residents and elected officials. Burton said the department posted the positions for the CRU ahead of the department’s annual “bid” for shifts, where officers choose their shifts and days off in 2019. Burton said officers needed to be selected for the CRU before the schedule was set on Jan. 1, which meant forming the team and assignment of shifts quickly came together.

“The public’s not going to know much difference if we move forward with this,” Burton said. “I think the council’s going to want to discuss this on Monday night and give me or the city manager more direction. If they don’t like this concept, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”

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