COLUMBIA, SC – The Columbia Police Department will soon be accepting applications for a citizens’ advisory council, which will review how the department handles complaints against officers, among other things.
City Council voted unanimously to approve Police Chief Skip Holbrook’s recommendation of an advisory council during a work session last week. Holbrook said the department will acccept applications until June 16 from Columbia residents who want to be a part of the council. Those selected would be required to go through training on the department’s policies and procedures.
“Some form of civilian oversight of law enforcement is important in order to strengthen trust within the community,” Holbrook said. “But every community should define the appropriate oversights. That’s exactly what we are doing here.”
Holbrook’s recommendation would be to establish a seven-person advisory council of residents who represent the city’s diverse demographics and occupations. Holbrook, the city manager and members of City Council would be involved in the selection process.
Those selected would be required to attend the police department’s citizens police academy or undergo training to become familiar with police operations and policies, as well as training in internal affairs investigation. They must also meet background requirements, be in good standing in the community and not be a party to any litigation with the police department or the city of Columbia, according to the recommendation. They would have to agree to serve for one full year on the council, which would meet quarterly.
Holbrook said the council also might be required to meet under special circumstances.
“We have to remain fluid as a committee,” Holbrook said. “One meeting session we have half a dozen incidents and the next only a couple. I think at the minimum you should meet quarterly. But if circumstances arise and cause us to meet in a special session then we need to do that.”
The council would be similar to that of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department citizens’ advisory council, which has been investigating citizen complaints as well as officer misconduct since 2001.
“The community trusts that we are going to do the right thing,” Sheriff Leon Lott said. “(The council) has taken years to develop. It’s not something we did overnight.”
That council is made up of 22 volunteers who were recommended by other council members and invited by Lott to represent Richland County’s various regions and ethnic groups. Representatives from the council are also involved in the hiring process of new deputies for the department. Over 14 years, they have reviewed more than 70 cases and made recommendations to Lott about the outcomes of investigations.
One difference between Columbia Police Department’s proposed council and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s council is that the police department would still allow for an outside agency – presumably the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division – to investigate an officer-involved shooting before the case would be submitted to the council.
The sheriff’s department investigates its own officer-involved shootings before submitting its findings to the solicitor’s office and then their advisory council. That’s something that has landed the department in hot water with Gov. Nikki Haley, who is backing legislation that would require all law enforcement agencies to turn over investigations of officer-involved shootings to SLED.
Reach Cahill at (803) 771-8305.
Want to apply?
Anyone interested in submitting an application for Columbia Police Department’s citizens’ advisory council should contact Connie Lucius at (803) 545-4268 or send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You also can download the application from the city’s website at www.columbiasc.net/boards-commissions.