The man commanding the city’s Police Department for the past four months is not qualified to carry a gun, and he will not be allowed to carry his weapon, wear his Columbia police uniform or drive a police car during his last two weeks on the job.
As a result, the first order of business for the city’s new interim Police Chief Randy Scott will be a review of all training records for the city’s 385 police officers, said Mike King, assistant city manager for public safety.
Scott will be sworn in at 11 this morning at Columbia Municipal Court. He replaces Columbia Police Col. Carl Burke, who was appointed interim chief in May.
Burke had not taken a certification test with his service weapon since November 2007, King said. The Police Department requires all officers to take the test annually to demonstrate safety standards and marksmanship.
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That means Burke was not qualified to lead the department.
However, his failure to follow the department’s weapons policy had nothing to do with his decision to retire Oct. 15, King said. Burke will stay on at the Police Department for the next two weeks to help Scott with his transition, King said.
The city’s weapons policy is separate from the certification requirements held by the state. Burke had met those state requirements and was recertified Saturday as an officer, according to his training records provided by the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.
The lapse in Burke’s certification requirements came to the city’s attention Monday afternoon shortly after Scott was named interim chief.
King said he learned about Burke’s failure to qualify after The State newspaper inquired about it.
The Police Department’s training division records showed Burke had not qualified since November 2007, and Burke confirmed that it was accurate, King said.
“It’s a violation of the use of force policy,” King said. “He is not certified at this time to carry his weapon. He is not authorized to wear his uniform, carry a gun or operate a police vehicle.”
The new interim chief has been ordered to review the Police Department’s training program and its certification records for all officers, King said.
“With an issue as critical as firearms certification, I want to know how this happened,” he said. “I want a full review to make sure this it’s an isolated incident and to make sure we do not have multiple officers who are not qualified.”
Any officers who have not met certification standards required by the department or the state of South Carolina will be given the same treatment as Burke, King said.
Burke could not be reached for comment Monday night.
During a Monday afternoon news conference, he said he was retiring to fulfill a promise to his family. Burke’s children are in medical school and he had agreed to help provide child care for his granddaughter, he said.
Scott will be the Police Department’s sixth chief in three years.
He takes over a department that is being investigated for officers’ conduct in Five Points and one that has been criticized over its response to crime in the city.
The timing behind Scott’s hiring was surprising to the public and the city’s officers.
Scott was hired by the city Friday, just two days after City Council decided against a management contract with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. Instead, the council voted to begin a search for a permanent chief and to appoint a committee to study a unified police force.
The debate over the management contract had been brewing for months but was unpopular with many voters.
The idea for a management contract later was amended to hire Lott to do an evaluation of the department. That, too, did not come to fruition.
Now, though, one of Lott’s right-hand men is in place at the city Police Department.
Throughout Monday’s news conference, Lott grinned like a proud parent. When asked about the irony of his chief deputy being hired by the city just two days after council rejected a management contract, he simply shrugged and said it would not be appropriate to talk about it.
“This is Randy Scott’s day,” he said.
As for Scott, he said his priority would be evaluating the department’s policies and practices. He said he would be aggressive in moving the department forward.
“They are counting on me to do the job,” Scott said. “Sheriff Lott has mentored me. This is not new to me. I’ve been working toward this.”
Scott, 41, was born and raised in Columbia. He served six years in the Marine Corps before becoming a sheriff’s deputy in 1994.
Scott said it was a tough decision to leave a secure job at the Sheriff’s Department for the uncertainty of an interim position at the city.
He choked up during the news conference as he spoke about it.
“Do you make the easy choice to stay comfortable?” he said. “Or do you move to spread the message of all of your training?
“I want to help the officers and bring up Columbia to where it needs to be.”
City manager Steve Gantt insisted that no promises had been made to Scott about becoming the city’s permanent chief. He said he will advertise and accept applications in a search for a new chief, but there was no timeline in place for conducting a search.
“This does give me a little more breathing room to go through this process,” he said.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.