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Columbia police lieutenant moves leave Community Outreach Unit without one

A shake-up of the Columbia Police Department’s seven lieutenants has left the Community Outreach Unit without one.

The unit, which was a major part of the city’s strategic plan and a proven crime reduction tool in the areas it served, is now missing a part of CPD’s normal chain of command. CPD spokesman Jeff Pitts said the sergeant in charge of the unit, Sgt. Mike Hestir, will report directly to Assistant Chief Brian Richenberger.

Lieutenants oversee various aspects of the police department. Four of them manage the patrol officers and sergeants in certain parts of town, while three others take care of special teams, such as the COU or SWAT. Those lieutenants, considered part of the department’s administration, report to an assistant chief.

The COU currently has five officers and Hestir. The unit has space for eight officers total.

Proposed changes to the COU last month caused an uproar in city government and led to the resignation of City Manager Mike Matthes on Nov. 21.

Pitts said that former Lt. Eric Hughes, who oversaw the patrol of the city’s southeast side, left CPD on Sept. 4. Hughes was replaced with Sgt. Brian Tate, the former head of the department’s Internal Affairs unit, five days later.

Lt. Jason Jones will move down to sergeant in order to take over CPD’s K9 unit. Jones said he always wanted to be a K-9 handler and applied for the spot when it was opened up by Sgt. Scott Hedrick’s retirement.

Former Sgt. Robert Fox moved up to lieutenant on Dec. 4 to cover the city’s northwest side. Fox led the city’s effort to create a community-oriented policing plan earlier this year. The report called for 60 new officers and a property tax raise in order to fully implement a community-oriented policing program.

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