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Columbia councilman looking at the future of police department amid civil unrest


The councilman of the forth ward of Columbia is taking a look at how police reform could take shape in the city, after receiving about 1,000 emails asking for change.

Ian Thomas held a virtual community meeting Sunday after sending a letter to his constituents, residents of a district in West Columbia.

This comes after protestors have taken to the streets protesting the death of George Floyd. Sunday night marks the fourteenth night in a row of protest in Columbia.

In the letter, Thomas addresses several of the current movements seen nationwide including police "use of force" policies as well as "defunding the police."

During the community meeting, Thomas spoke about his support of the the #8CANTWAIT Campaign, which aims to put the following eight "use of force" policies in place.

  • Completely ban all chokehold and strangling by officers.
  • Require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means before resorting to deadly force.
  • Require comprehensive reporting when officers use force or threaten to use force against civilians.
  • Implement a duty to intervene and stop fellow officers when excessive force is being used, immediately reporting the violating officer to a supervisor.
  • Require de-escalation of situations when possible.
  • Develop a Force Continuum that limits the types of force and/or weapons used to respond to resistance.
  • Require officers to give a verbal warning before shooting at a civilian.
  • Restrict officers from shooting at moving vehicles.

While Thomas said the campaign has not looked at Columbia's policies, he said he is going to work with the city council to try to implement all of them.

The chief of the Columbia Police Department Geoff Jones issued a response to the campaign, outlining how the department currently practices each policy.

One of the major policy changes being questioned across the country is the use of chokeholds. Right now, the use of chokeholds is prohibited by CPD, unless officers are intentionally applying deadly force to stop a threat.

As for the "defund the police" movement, Thomas said in his letter the City of Columbia spends about $25 million annually on policing and less than $2 million on social and human services.

"In my view, these budget numbers do not reflect the values of this community, and many of the problems we ask police officers to respond to are far more appropriate for mental health therapists, substance abuse counselors, and housing agencies," Thomas said in the letter. "Not only are those professionals better trained and equipped to solve the problems, they are less likely to escalate situations into violent conflicts."

Chief Jones said in his response CPD encourages officers to use de-escalation techniques when possible. In the past 6 months, he said he requested training and policy staff to discuss gaps in the training or policy that could reduce the number of times officers use force.

Another topic of conversation brought up Sunday during the community meeting was community policing. Thomas responded to a question about the effectiveness of community policing stopping crime.

"I believe one of the things police officers do... is do a better job of connecting people with social services that they need and they may be part of reducing crime," Thomas said.

Columbia City Council meets Monday at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Watch ABC17 News at 9 and 10 for a full report.

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Connor Hirsch

Connor Hirsch reports for the weekday night shows, as well as Sunday nights.


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