During last week's Columbia City Council meeting, council members voted to continue participating in the federal asset forfeiture program.
The city has a little more than $400,000 in asset forfeiture funds, with about $86,000 of that coming this year.
The funds can be utilized by the Columbia Police Department. However, during the council meeting, Ward 3 Councilman Roy Lovelady asked City Manager De'Carlon Seewood for a report on ways the city could spend the money on crime prevention in the city.
In a statement sent to ABC 17 News, the Columbia Police Officers Association claims the council is choosing to defund the police department by looking into this.
"At last week’s City Council meeting, and despite constant calls to support law enforcement, the City
Council asked City staff to research whether federal asset forfeiture funds could be redirected away from the police department. These funds are typically reserved for helping CPD combat violent and other crime in Columbia," the release states.
Ward 5 Councilman Donald Waterman said he believes the claims made by the CPOA are a generalization.
"Yes, there were some thoughts about can we do something with that outside of the police department," Waterman said. "But there was also several discussions about programs that they have proposed or considered."
"This is absolutely defunding," Nichols said. "The problem that this comes down to is we're in such a critical need for staffing... we're in such a critical need for violence to be decreased and they're wanting to try and reinvent the wheel and find some new way to do that."
Lovelady declined to comment.
During the council meeting, other community members voiced their concerns. Some said the money should not be given back to the police department and asked the council to take more time before coming to a decision.
Interim Police Chief for the Columbia Police Department Matt Stephens said the last time the city looked into spending the funds was for the Fusus video system, which was denied by the council. Funding in the past has been used to pay for body cameras and K-9 Units, though the city has not spent money from the program since 2018.
This is in part, why Nichols said he disagrees with the council's decsion.
"They're wanting to take it and use it potentially for one of their new pet projects, rather than supporting police... giving us the tool, the staffing and the technology we need to combat violent crime," Nichols said.
However, Waterman said he's open to the idea of using the funds toward a number of options.
"So we'll leave it in the police department and use it for some of the community outreach programs, or equipment or software," Waterman said.