Columbia Police Citizens Advisory Council member pushing for more meetings

Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 10:19 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Protests in Columbia and around the nation have put a spotlight on the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

In Columbia, the Citizens Advisory Council acts a bridge between the two groups.

Its description on the City of Columbia website states:

"Created in June 2015, the CAC fosters proactive relationships with an open dialogue between CPD and citizens. The purpose of the Citizens Advisory Council is to review police actions and determinations of complaints received by the police department."

Via email, Columbia Police Department spokesperson Jennifer Timmons said the council "brings tremendous assistance to the CPD. The CAC brings an additional layer of transparency and accountability and a shared perspective from the community."

She said the council has impacted the department’s Use of Force Policy, Police Pursuit Policy, and Body-Worn Camera Policy.

The group meets quarterly, roughly every three months.

Member Don Polite Jr. said he would like the council to meet more frequently and have more in-depth discussions.

"I would say when actually we do get together, sure yeah, I think that they've been pretty receptive. Again that doesn't happen as often as I would like," he said.

He said he's been on the council for roughly a year and a half and, in that time, there have been situations when quarterly meetings have failed to take place as a result of a transition between CPD officers working with the group.

Earlier on June 4, Timmons answered questions via email. WIS asked "I’m aware that the council is scheduled to meet quarterly, but how often has it been meeting? A member says meetings have been canceled."

She responded "The Citizen Advisory Council (CAC) meets quarterly and has since its inception. I’m not sure if Mr. Polite is confusing the CAC with the Command Review Board, which he’s assisted with on occasion regarding internal complaints."

WIS confirmed with Polite that he was referencing the CAC.

Later in the evening on June 4, Timmons texted WIS stating "If a meeting was canceled or rescheduled in the past, it could have been for a variety of reasons such as training, scheduling conflict, etc. It was not because (sic) CPD doesn't care."

WIS also asked via email "In light of current events, are there any plans to alter or expand the role of the council?"

She responded "No."

Polite said he spoke with CPD leadership on June 4 about more meetings. He said the leadership was receptive but did not commit to any expansion of the CAC schedule.

He described the meeting as "unresolved."

Timmons texted WIS stating:

"Yes we are open to having meetings more often which would be most appropriate and we have considered that. We have quarterly meetings a a minimum. Frequency depends on critical needs. We also have meetings with individual CAC members to have an open and honest dialogue."

Timmons said the most recent council meeting was Feb. 13 and the next meeting is currently being scheduled.

Polite said he will keep working to expand the role of the council.

WIS contacted other members of the council, with three responding. One declined to be interviewed until he was given clearance from CPD. A second said he did not feel he had the authority to speak on behalf of the group. A third did not respond in time for publication.

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