Karl Miller writes in his Missourian editorial that he is “siding with Chief Burton” on the manner in which the Dresner affair was handled. Miller has many things to say, but I wish to focus on the mistake Miller makes in describing this situation is as “a purely personal matter”.
It is clear to me that the only “purely personal” part of the story is the love story between Columbia Deputy police chief Tom Dresner and Columbia Police Public Information Officer Jessie Haden. Karl Miller is right to say that this is a personal matter. But official misconduct is not, and unfortunately Tom Dresner is guilty not only of the offense of conducting a secret affair with a direct surbordinate, he is guilty of compromising his integrity as a public servant, and that is a far more public issue that deserves to be addressed. We might ask the following follow-up questions:
- Did Tom Dresner and Jessie Haden use a motel for their rendezvous, or city facilities?
- Did Tom Dresner and Jessie Haden conduct their affair on the city’s clock, or did they manage to keep everything for after work?
- Did other officers know about this affair, which was conducted over a period of at least 7 years?
- If other officers knew, why did they choose to keep the misconduct of a superior officer under wraps?
- If other officers knew about the affair, were they ever in a position to put the screw on Dresner to cover up misconduct or to obtain promotions and other favors?
Karl Miller might retort that there is no reason to believe that Tom Dresner and Jessie Haden ever did more than conduct a totally secret affair on their own time and property and that Dresner’s integrity is otherwise intact. Unfortunately, this is not the case either. We have known for years that the police department was structurally dysfunctional; it was only in the last two years that the police had a functional Internal Affairs division, and the only external check on internal misconduct is a toothless and ineffective Citizens’ Police Review Board.
This is the important point. It is the structure of the police department that is our true enemy here, not the individual officers. There are individual officers in Columbia’s police department who deserve prosecution and public shaming, but without reforming the structure of the police department, Columbia will continue to see lawsuits over the conduct of its police officers and the protocols that guide them.