The effort led by Doug Lane of the group “Chief Burton needs to resign” seeks the ouster of Columbia police chief Ken Burton in retaliation for the firing of office Rob Sanders. In this pursuit, Burton’s opponents have made allegations that Burton himself has been guilty of excessive force in the past and hid this fact during the interview process. Lane says in today’s Columbia Tribune:
“There is a lot of discontent amongst residents and the judgments he has passed on police officers,” Lane said. “With the recent developments from Dallas, we feel that there are some shortcomings with his integrity by not revealing this information in detail.”
As one of the primary fomenters of dissent and discontent against police overreach in this community, I thought that I would voice my opinion here.
While I certainly have my doubts about Chief Burton’s integrity and his ability to lead the force, I’m not concerned about the decision to fire Rob Sanders. In fact, my criticism of Chief Burton is that he has not been tough enough on issues of officer misconduct and that his department seems too willing to coddle those who have violated the law. This is the general criticism leveled by other Columbia residents (many of whose concerns I represent), and particularly my good friends at Keep Columbia Free.
I am of course concerned if Chief Burton’s hiring was conducted improperly. However, though I and many other advocates of law enforcement reform have been diligent at uncovering corruption and misconduct, we do not advocate that Chief Burton resign or be fired as a result of the allegations presented by Mr. Lane and the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police. First, there is no clear proof that Chief Burton’s hiring was conducted improperly or that he was dishonest about his past. Second, these allegations are not being brought by anyone who was actually harmed or directly knowledgeable about the events in question; rather, they are being brought by a dishonored officer who can’t let go of a grudge, and police unions who put the salaries and pension benefits of their members ahead of any notion of common decency or public safety.
It is worth specifically discussing the issue of police unions further. This past year I went to City Hall with Private Investigator Rick Gurley to speak on behalf of Derek Riley, who was beaten senseless by former CPD officer Chris Hessenflow. In this appearance I warned the City Council that the representatives from the Columbia Police Officers Association were there not to inform or assist with the process of justice but instead represented a privileged elite seeking to immunize themselves from the consequences of law-breaking. And this has been the tone of the engagement between the CPOA and Columbia: whenever an officer is charged with breaking the law, the CPOA is there to deny that a crime happened and to claim that the officer has immunity from criminal prosecution or civil liability.
It is important that our law enforcement be properly trained in the protection of Constitutional rights that wrest law and order from the spume of anarchy. The ability for our society to recognize claims of official misconduct and equitably dispense justice beyond the narrow interests of a powerful few should be our American example to the world. I urge readers to henceforth oppose the heavy handed tactics of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, the Columbia Police Officers Association, and the misguided attempts of Rob Sander’s friends as they seek to undermine the rule of law.