Police SWAT teams, tasers, drug raids, dead dogs, angry citizens and civil liberties
Columbia, Missouri, the city of 100,000 population where I reside, has become infamous during the past week because of a police raid video from February that made its way to YouTube.
The video shows a Columbia Police Department SWAT team breaking down the door of a residence, ordering a suspected marijuana user to get down on the floor, barking orders at his wife and seven-year-old son, plus killing a family dog while wounding another.
It would be difficult to live in Columbia and remain unaware of the video, as well as the controversy it has spawned around the world. I had no choice but to pay attention, because as of January 1, 2010, I began my service on the newly created Citizens Police Review Board in Columbia.
The seven elected members of the Columbia City Council, all unpaid public servants, chose the nine members of the Police Review Board from about 60 citizens who volunteered. Dozens of other cities created Police Review Boards before Columbia did; each is unique in some ways. Most cities have not created Police Review Boards.
The nine of us don’t know yet whether we will receive a complaint about the SWAT raid from the family members directly affected. We do know that the police chief has asked us to review previously existing and newly proposed SWAT guidelines for Columbia.
It’s bound to become an interesting give-and-take.
Earlier this week, the Citizens Police Review Board convened a public session so local residents could express their outrage or support, and so that we could listen to suggestions for change.
In a few weeks, the nine of us on the Police Review Board will also begin learning in depth about the use of Tasers by Columbia police. Several controversial Taser incidents before the SWAT raid had already spawned a grassroots movement to ban the weapons from the police department arsenal.
This is going to be an interesting, educational and maybe heated year for the nine of us who will help define what the Citizens Police Review Board can and will do. We hope whatever results, we can strengthen trust between Columbia police and the rest of the citizenry.