Comprehensive Q & A about police and the community  

COLUMBIA, Mo 12/13/15 (Interview) -- Columbia Mayoral candidate Brian Treece answered questions about law enforcement from radio and television reporters last week. 

The 17 questions cover a remarkable array of issues, from the drug war to public safety budgets to police-minority relations. 

Delivered in a "think-fast-and-on-your-feet" format, Treece's answers are in a hard-to-read oral transcript, so the Heart Beat paragraphed and formatted them for easier reading below.

Treece is running against Columbia attorney Skip Walther on the April 2016 Mayoral ballot.  

Treece on public safety and the city Budget

A budget is an expression of priorities.   I think we can all agree public safety should be our number one priority, reflected in our budget.    If we’re going to continue to be one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest, we need to have a blueprint and a plan that prioritizes public safety to keep pace.

On community policing 

I support community policing, [which represents] having a relationship in place before an incident occurs.   That way, a police officer isn’t rolling up and getting to know the neighborhood, its residents, and problems after the fact.

Anything we can do to increase the stability and frequency of officers interacting with neighborhoods will increase crime prevention and crime reporting.    If you know the people you are serving and the people that serve you, that enhances the opportunity for better communication.   And the community policing initiative goes a long way to bridge that relationship.  

On a management decision to re-assign CPD's traffic unit to community policing

It dramatizes the shortage we have in our public safety officers.   

Why do we have to make a choice between having a traffic unit or having a community policing initiative?   We need to maintain our traffic unit, and add a community policing unit -- six to eight officers -- which has been shown to improve the relationship and rapport of our police with the people they serve.  

Treece on paying for more police officers with a voter-approved tax

I do not support asking taxpayers to raise taxes for public safety until we have gone through every alternative, and every other potential revenue source.  

We have an opportunity to improve people’s confidence in the city’s budgeting.   We do that through a transparent and effective examination of all of our revenue sources, and outlays, as an expression of our community’s priorities.

On city manager Mike Matthes

I look forward to working with the city manager.    We work every day on infrastructure, historic preservation, so that’s nothing new.   I’m looking forward to having a new priority to focus on.   

On Matthes’ proposal to put more officer funding on the 2017 ballot

I’m not going to discourage anybody from looking two years into the future and anticipating our needs.  

But we can’t wait until 2017.  The potential of a tax increase being passed is probably enhanced if we can show voters that we have looked through the budget and have either:   Found additional savings that we can dedicate to law enforcement; or there are no additional savings without severe cuts in other critical services.  

We have to look at the entire revenue stream to make sure we have the resources for public safety.  

On the controversial practice of municipal courts generating revenue (parking and other fines) to enhance city budgets

Municipal courts should not be a revenue generator for municipalities.    We never want to incentivize traffic enforcement or municipal court enforcement as a revenue generator for police officers, either. 

On a state law capping the percentage of general revenue a city can get from its municipal courts

That was a much-needed reform, driven by the Ferguson task force and legislation that followed from the Missouri General Assembly.   The good news is that Columbia is less dependent on [municipal court revenue] than some of the communities in St. Louis County.  

On the black/white income gap in Columbia

That's a problem, and the social equity plan is something we’re all paying attention to.

We can go back decades and find planning and zoning decisions that disproportionately impacted the African-American community, and had an atrophying effect on the African-American middle class in Columbia. 

We’re paying the price for that and it’s going to take a while to catch up.  

On pay equity for all city employees

There’s also a pay equity gap in Columbia when it comes to frontline employees -- like public safety officers, refuse collectors, and sanitation workers -- and the highest-paid people.

Pay compression with police officers is also a huge issue.   A detective might be supervising seven other police officers, and making an extra seventeen cents an hour.   Paying a professionally-compensated salary is something we’re going to have to address, to make sure we’re recruiting the best police officers.  

Treece on police presence in the community

We need to make sure our police officers are front and center in our community.  

Right now, we are aggregating police officers on certain beats to make sure we have the density people expect, so they’re seeing those police cars.   But I don’t know if [this approach] is an effective public safety strategy.  

We need to increase visibility sooner than later, but that costs money.   Shortly after the April election, we’ll be going into a budget cycle.   I hope we can begin to incorporate some modest increases in our staffing patterns with our police officers, and make some dramatic gains over the next 12 to 18 months. 

On police accountability

I think the Columbia Police Department (CPD) is highly regarded by the citizens it serves.  

We have built-in protections that a lot of communities have struggled to enact, such as body cameras, which increase transparency in the interaction between police officer, victim, and perpetrator, ensuring some accountability for both the [criminal] Defense and the Prosecution.

We also have a Citizens Police Review Board, at a time when many cities do not.   It has provided an appeal process for those who think they need another look at an interaction with law enforcement. 

Those are just two areas, but I’m proud of the Columbia Police Department and the men and women who work for it.  

Treece on advocating for police  

[Ed Note:  From 1998 to 2010, Treece lobbied for the Fraternal Order of Police before the Missouri State Legislature].    

That experience prepared and qualified me to jump in, and dig in, on these issues.  There’s always going to be issues at the state level that affect work at a local level.  

On concerns about CPOA Executive Director Dale Roberts' impact on police relations with the African-American community

[Roberts has been caught up in several controversies, including declaring Darren Wilson Day on Facebook, on the first anniversary of Michael Brown's death in August.  Wilson, then a Ferguson, Mo police officer, shot Brown.   Roberts is not a police officer.]

It’s a concern we should take seriously.   I would encourage those in positions of responsibility to be more sensitive and more appropriate in the language they use.  I prefer to use more positive language, language that’s inclusive.   That goes a long way.       

As Mayor, I look forward to beginning a community dialogue on those issues that can make Columbia the dynamic and inclusive community we all know it can be.   Clearly, public safety officers need to be part of that entire community dialogue.   I have reached out to several of my longstanding friends in the African-American community, but it’s not just that community.   

On police officers and mental health issues in the field

Police officers have to be more than just law enforcement officers.    They have to triage mental health cases; know how to respond and when to respond.

On Drug Courts as an alternative to "the Drug War"

I was on the Missouri Supreme Court’s Drug Court Task Force in late 1997 early 1998, when there were only two drug courts in the state of Missouri.  Those models had shown some early effectiveness.  

One of the things we did was support legislation to allow judicial circuits to create a drug court, a dedicated drug court commission with a special judge -- a drug court commissioner -- to allow first-time, nonviolent drug offenders to access treatment options as part of their sentencing.  

I think that enhanced motivation to get clean and stay clean, and decreased recidivism, so we didn’t see those guys back in our courtroom, blocking access and trial capacity for more serious offenses.  

On moving to more treatment-based solutions

Anything we can do to increase options for treatment are most effective for getting first time nonviolent drug offenders out of our costly jail system, and back into a job where they can earn an income and pay taxes.  

Addiction and drug abuse are major components of crime and economic disparity.    You're certainly increasing the motivation for treatment when the choice is either go to treatment or go to jail.  

Ed. Note:  For years, the Columbia Heart Beat sent and transcribed questionnaires to candidates for City Council, County Commission, Columbia School Board, and other elected offices. 

But we gave up the practice in frustration:  too many answers came back with so many spelling and grammar errors, they were impossible to reprint without time-consuming and extensive editing.  

We will reprint candidate questionnaires from other groups (LWV, reporters, etc.), but not if the answers are time-consuming, editorial disasters.