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Anyone who follows the local Columbia media knows that Chief Burton has been under fire as of late. He has never been popular among the old guard, rank and file officers, but lately the local public sector police labor union, the Columbia Police Officers Association (CPOA), a national police labor union, the Fraternal Order of Police, and a group centered around a fired, former CPD Officer, Rob Sanders, and his former police dog Fano have all been on the attack.
Keep Columbia Free publicly endorses Chief Burton’s continued vigilance combating racial bias in his department and wholeheartedly agrees with his decision to fire Rob Sanders.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and unleashed a firestorm of police union ire was the firing of Rob Sanders. Sanders was fired for using excessive force against an inmate in a holding cell. Sanders shoved the captive man against a wall hard enough to fracture a vertebrae.
As is customary in such “dog and pony” CPD investigations, the Internal Affairs Department ruled in favor of Officer Sanders, even after he and his fellow officers were heard laughing about the incident. When Chief Burton reviewed the case, he overruled the findings of the Internal Affairs department, promptly and rightly firing Officer Sanders.
The city went on to deny Sanders the opportunity to purchase the police dog, Fano, further raising the ire of his supporters in the department.
Not surprisingly, due to its long history condoning excessive force and brutality at the hands of the Columbia Police, the CPOA has come to the aid of Sanders. The vicious attacks of the CPOA know no bounds. CPOA Executive Director Ashley Cuttle even went so far as to make the claim to a Tribune reporter that Chief Burton has called officers and their families racists during meetings with The Bias Free Columbia Coalition. I was was in attendance at the meeting in question and sat less than 10 feet away from Chief Burton. The Chief said nothing of the sort. He simply and rightly said that nearly everyone carries some sort of racial bias and that his officers are human. Ashley Cuttle should be sued for using her status as CPOA Executive Director and union mouthpiece to float such glaring and damaging lies to the local media.
It is the CPOA that represents everything that is wrong in the Columbia Police Department. The CPOA is a rabid labor union that is more concerned with preserving officer pensions than protecting the civil rights of the very citizenry whom the officers purport to serve and protect. The CPOA cements the perverse solidarity that separates the the police from the community and turns otherwise good cops into accessories to the crimes of the few truly bad cops. Ratting on a bad CPOA member cop would carry a harsher punishment than ratting on a gang member in the streets. Chief Burton is now paying the price for daring to clean up a department that has struggled with integrity for many years.
And the attacks keep coming. Even the recently retired CPD Officer Jeff Westbrook penned an editorial in the Tribune denouncing Chief Burton. Westbrook was the detective who refused to allow detained criminal suspect Nicole Palmer to speak to her attorney despite several requests to do so. At 1:50 and 5:40 in the following video you can see Officer Jeff Westbrook in action, grinding our beloved Bill of Rights into the dirt with the heel of his jackboot, as he denies council to a prisoner. If this is the caliber of officer (or former officer) calling for Burton’s head, Burton must be doing something right.
Now these forces who are calling for the reinstatement of Rob Sanders have dredged up a 30+ year-old accusation of excessive force leveled against Chief Burton when he was a Dallas police officer. Thanks to the level-headed thinking of our freshman City Manager, Mike Matthes, this silly and ultimately dirty campaign will go nowhere.
Although we have not always agreed with Chief Burton, Keep Columbia Free publicly endorses Chief Burton’s continued vigilance combating racial bias in his department and wholeheartedly agree with his decision to fire Rob Sanders. Chief Burton is a welcome improvement when compared to the leadership the CPD has seen over the past 30 years. The so-called low morale in the department is merely a symptom of the decay left from the past years of poor management. It hurts to clean an infected wound.
One thing has been made clear by these recent and ongoing events. Civilian oversight of our dysfunctional police department is more important than ever. Our Citizens Police Review Board needs to be given teeth and allowed to do more than merely make suggestions. Please see a recent memorandum Keep Columbia Free submitted to the City Council and the CPRB.
For another take on the subject, see local policy analyst Eapen Thampy’s blog, Ducks and Economics.