The early retirement of Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones is a significant loss and setback for our community. Jones, a Columbia native who came up through the ranks of the Columbia Police Department, accomplished a great deal during his tenure. His efforts to change the culture of the department, raise employee morale and improve communication lines with a variety of disparate groups in the city are among his greatest accomplishments. Jones should also be praised for his work to increase the level of transparency surrounding his decisions.
As is to be expected, there are naysayers and anti-cop detractors beating their chests and celebrating his departure. Those folks ought to be very careful about what they wish for.
If you pay close attention to city politics, you already know that there is a very small group of individuals who have a perpetual beef with law and order in the city of Columbia. Their testimonies before the Columbia City Council and their sound bites to local media carry a tiring drone of talking points based on hearsay and fearmongering.
To no one’s surprise, our City Council members take the bait — hook, line and sinker because it feeds a narrative that supports their own personal agendas.
Mark Twain was once quoted as saying, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” Some would say that quote applies perfectly to the half-baked statistics often cited as “proof” of a racist police department here in Columbia. If you rely on the disproportionate number of contacts our officers have with minorities, you’re only getting one small piece of the puzzle. Given the opportunity, most members of law enforcement would tell you that the reported numbers of disproportionate contacts are out of context. To fully understand the relationship between cops and minorities in our community, you should also be given an understanding of the race/ethnicity of the person reporting criminal activity, the description given by that caller of the alleged perpetrator, and the race/ethnicity of the person who is eventually arrested as a result of that call.
It’s not easy being a cop in Columbia. It’s difficult doing a job where your safety and well-being is frequently in jeopardy. To further complicate matters, in those rare occasions where you’re forced to do something you’ve been trained to do, the mayor or city manager (i.e. your boss’s bosses) are going to throw you under the bus before collecting all the facts. It’s no mystery why there are currently so many vacant positions in the department.
Another complicating factor is the revolving door of criminals in and out of our judicial system in Boone County. Our police officers are literally arresting the same people day after day because our prosecuting attorney and judges are much too worried about their idea of social justice and overcrowding at the Boone County Jail.
In defense of the current prosecuting attorney, there is an enormous caseload in our county; however, making decisions based on the census at the Boone County Jail is unacceptable. Imagine how demoralizing it must be to put your life in danger to bring a felon off the streets only to encounter that same felon the next day perpetrating the exact same crimes.
Adding insult to injury are the recent plea deals in Boone County that have given murderers soft sentences to expedite the criminal justice process here and reduce the overall caseload in the prosecutor’s office. Imagine being the mother of Corey Jordan whose son’s murderer had his charges reduced from first-degree murder to manslaughter for “undisclosed reasons.” Or perhaps, you’re familiar with the story of Shaunda Hamilton, the mother of 18-year- old Columbia College student Nadria Wright, whose murderer was given an Alford Plea that reduced his sentence to just seven years for Nadria’s murder. There are people in Boone County who have been sentenced to longer prison terms for drunk driving.
If you’ve never ridden with a police officer on the night shift or trained at a police academy, you might have a hard time understanding the pressures our officers are under. In addition to the rigors of their profession, Columbia cops have the added distraction of being forced to walk the impossible tightrope of balancing their law enforcement responsibilities with the unreasonable expectation of political correctness. It’s an unfair predicament in which to put our officers.
Under the current circumstances, it will be difficult for Columbia City Manager De’Carlon Seewood to find the most qualified candidate to fill the vacant police chief position. For the good of our city, I wish him well. I also hope he will be able to make his selection without the help of Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe or the members of her jaded City Council.