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"BARBARIC" COPS? Trib columnist, former deputy police chief spar over crime column

"Your assertion the Columbia Police Dept. was rogue, heavy handed, and militaristic is a giant myth."
 
COLUMBIA, Mo 8/13/13 (Beat Byte)
-- A newspaper column about crime, police, a public safety tax, and "the unusual, if not unprecedented, spectacle" of Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey publicly criticizing Columbia police chief Ken Burton has prompted a war of words between the columnist and Columbia's former deputy police chief.

"I am reading your op-ed, mouth agape. I am disheartened," Tom Dresner commented to Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Bob Roper.

Roper's August 4 editorial praises Burton, criticizes the pre-Burton police force, and lambastes Carey. 

Dresner ended his 26-year career at the police department with the rank of deputy chief in Dec. 2010.  He served as interim chief before Burton was hired in February 2009.
 
"You seem to be misinformed on the one hand, and appear to be deliberately misleading on the other," Dresner scolded Roper, criticizing his "anecdotal evidence for how the Columbia Police Department (CPD) became institutionally barbaric, in your view."
 
With "four killings and a lot of 'shots-fired' incidents," Roper wonders how violent crime has become so bad after it had drifted down over the past few years.   He blames "turf wars," grudge matches -- and the culture at CPD.

"About 13 to 15 years ago, some of my friends in the legal community started telling me certain officers of the Columbia Police Department were becoming more militaristic," Roper explained. "This trend resulted in a more heavy-handed, and sometimes abusive, treatment of Columbia residents."

That "abusive treatment" in turn "led to the 'no snitch' attitude that is so harmful to solving crimes," Roper suspects.   "Likewise, it surely has caused some of the dislike, even hatred, of the police that we now see, as well as a lack of trust in many quarters."

Burton, Roper says, arrived to do the "difficult, unpleasant, but necessary" work of changing all that.  

Dresner finds fault with the evidence Roper uses to back up his claims, most notably that City Hall paid $240,000 to settle the infamous Kinloch Court SWAT raid, during which "a dog was shot and killed and a child was on the premises."
 
"Wrong," Dresner tells Roper. "The city didn’t pay out a dime. The entire lawsuit was dismissed."

And has Roper suddenly gone soft on crime?   Five years ago this month, he praised CPD's use of a TASER on a man threatening to jump off a bridge onto Interstate 70.  Though the incident was controversial, "I think the police did their best under the circumstances," Roper explained.  "These are tough judgment calls, and they followed appropriate procedures."

Today, however, Roper cited the TASER incident as evidence of CPD's corrupted police culture. "That’s quite a change of heart," Dresner chided.
 
Both men have personal biases at stake.  Roper discloses he was part of a committee that recommended former City Manager Bill Watkins hire Burton.  "I have written favorably of that decision since."

Dresner retired after allegations of a "sex scandal" with a police subordinate.  

But those biases haven't stopped either man from arguing about the summer's #1 topic -- the fight against crime.  
 
"Your assertion that CPD was rogue and heavy handed and militaristic is a giant myth," Dresner scolds Roper.  "I take it personally.  It's completely false."

-- Heart Beat Staff


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