Citizens Police Review Board re-elects chair and vice-chair as it approaches the end of its first year

Columbia’s Citizens Police Review Board re-elected its chair and vice-chair Wednesday evening as the board nears its one-year anniversary.

The board’s mission is to provide an external and independent process for review of actual or perceived misconduct between the citizens and police officers of Columbia, according to the city of Columbia’s website.

The ordinance establishing the board limits terms of office positions to one year. Columbia established the board on Nov. 17, 2009. The chair is Ellen Locurto-Martinez, and the vice-chair is James Martin. Both were immediately nominated for their existing positions. There were no other nominations.

When put to a vote, the board said yes for LoCurto-Martinez and Martin except for one member, Susan Smith. She knew of someone else who wanted to be chair of the board, but she said it didn’t turn out.

The board maintained that it held great importance for the community, but there were differing opinions on how the board has helped the people of Columbia.

Board member Steve Weinberg said the board is great for the city.

“I think it’s a win-win situation for the community,” Weinberg said. “We hope there could be a public and reasonable airing of complaint.”

He also expressed the importance of the board through the appeal its members were discussing.

The appeal came from a man who said he experienced excessive force from an officer. He filed a complaint with the Columbia Police Department. He then received a statement from Police Chief Ken Burton saying there was not sufficient evidence to prove the officer acted properly or improperly. The man appealed to the review board.

The board heard testimony from several people regarding the matter, and Weinberg said the board did find sufficient evidence to make a decision on this matter. It was the board’s process that made this possible.

Another board member, Stephen Alexander, said he hoped the board would create a better relationship between the people of Columbia and the police force. Alexander’s suggestion for the appeal that night was for the two men to shake hands and have a conversation about what happened. Then they could speak to people in their community about this experience.

In the past year, the board dealt with a few complaints, on being a SWAT team raid from February of 2010 that is now a lawsuit, but this was their first appeal of excessive force.

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