Tag Archives: Columbia Police Department

In defense of Chief Burton

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.

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Fit to print, or fit to cover-up? Against Karl Miller

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.



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Against the Columbia Police Department on Tasers

This past month I spoke to the Boone County Pachyderms, the local Republican organization, on the anti-taser ballot initiative facing Columbia voters, in a forum with Dwayne Carey, the Boone County Sheriff. Here are a few thoughts.

The “ban tasers in Columbia” ballot initiative was brought forth after the Columbia Police Department was involved in a series of highly publicized Taserings that resulted in lawsuits against the city and significant public outcry. Moreover, Columbia Police Department has been involved in numerous instances of civil rights violations and tends to deny wrongdoing in almost every instance where a complaint is lodged. There is a basic lack of respect for citizens by the police of Columbia, Missouri, and it shows in some rather ugly ways.

I don’t agree with the entirety of the “ban taser” ordinance. I think the ordinance is unconstitutionally overbroad in banning defensive civilian use of Tasers, and I think that the real problem with Tasers in Columbia is that we have a bad police force, not because the Taser is a bad tool.

I do think that Tasers represent unpredictable force, because you can’t predict how different people will react to being Tasered, and you risk killing someone who has an unobservable heart defect or other health problem. Generally speaking, I think this means that Tasers are inappropriate for disciplinary uses, and represent excessive force in those scenarios. So while I don’t think law enforcement shouldn’t have Tasers, I do think that the Taser is a tool for very specific defensive situations, and you should never let someone who is poorly trained use a Taser in an official capacity.

The discussion in front of the Pachyderms crystallized around those two contentions. Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey was polite and well-reasoned in his discussion. Carey noted that his department has had Tasers for far longer than Columbia Police Dept; Boone County got Tasers in 2002 and CPD got Tasers in 2008. BCSD uses Tasers infrequently, and it appears in far more appropriate situations than CPD does. If one uses the simple metric of lawsuits per Taser usage, this is a defensible claim; I am unaware of any complaint or lawsuit filed against BCSD for Taser usages, whereas CPD has managed to generate several million dollars worth of lawsuits over the last 3 years (that taxpayers end up on the hook for).

The reporter from the Columbia Tribune posted this comment to his blog regarding the story:

Dan’s comment:  I thought this was a perfectly fair story.  The Sheriff on the one hand defending the use of Tasers by law enforcement, and the opponent, who is adamantly opposed to the CPD having Tasers, although he’s OK with the Sheriff’s Dept. having them.  I caught a lot of guff from the CPD for using him as a source because of his obvious bias, but the guy spoke in a public forum, and was invited to do so by the Pachyderm Club.  I had to cover his comments, and I had to ask him questions afterward.  It was my job and my assignment.  CPD didn’t see it that way.  The Sheriff, by the way, thought my story was fair and accurate.  – Dan

And of course this comment captures everything that I am saying about CPD perfectly. Of course I have a bias. But CPD won’t elaborate on what that bias is (I believe in the rights of individuals to be free from torture and police brutality). Nor are they making the argument that I am wrong or providing any warrant for why my comments are unfair. But when you have Eric Dearmont or the other hacks from the Columbia Police Officers Association commenting on any allegations against CPD, you have to understand that their first allegiance is to their paychecks and pensions, not justice or public service.

PS. I should thank Mike Zweifel and Tom Seagraves for their gracious invitation to speak to the Boone County Republicans and their commitment to open and vibrant debate.

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