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COLUMBIA, Missouri (KMIZ)

Columbia’s Law Department believes a new bill signed by Governor Mike Parson could have a significant impact on the Citizens Police Review Board.

Senate Bill 754 was signed by Parson on Tuesday and includes public safety provisions. The bill takes effect on August 28.

Section 590.653 of the bill deals with civilian review boards. It states that the bill “provides that civilian review boards established by political subdivisions shall be limited solely to the review, investigation, determination, and recommendation of disciplinary action against police officers.”

Donald Weaver, general counsel for the Columbia Police Officers Association, said the CPOA was “pleased” with the bill and does not believe it will prevent the CPRB from fulfilling its mission. He pointed to sections 21-44 of Columbia’s city ordinance, which states that the purpose of the CPRB is “to provide an external and independent process for reviewing actual or perceived misconduct by police officers, thereby increasing the Police Department’s accountability to the public and the public’s confidence in the Police Department.”

“What’s happened over the years is what I would call a creeping expansion of mission,” Weaver said. “What was originally intended to provide an independent review of alleged or actual complaints of misconduct has morphed into something more all-encompassing. I guess they’ve expanded their mission. And what this bill does is get them back on track.”

However, CPRB Chairman Doug Hunt wrote in an email that the city’s law department believes the bill “will make it unlawful for the CPRB to carry out most of its current responsibilities, including making recommendations on police policy and holding regular meetings or meetings open to the public and the press.”

“Senate Bill 754 creates very narrow limits on the duties of committees like the Citizens’ Review Committee,” Hunt told ABC 17 before the CPRB meeting on Wednesday. “It eliminates most of the functions we currently perform.”

However, Weaver argues that eliminating these features is a good thing.

“Be careful when people tell you it’s going to hinder their current function. It is. That’s because their current function is way off from what the mission should be,” Weaver said. “This body has evolved over time, perhaps not by everyone’s intention, into a sounding board for a small portion of our community that is made up of really interest-driven activists who are really trying to accomplish something that goes way beyond what you find in black and white in the ordinance. And they’ve co-opted a lot of good-hearted, well-meaning people into their mission, maybe, maybe without their knowledge.”

Hunt believes the police union’s relationship with the board has improved over time.

“The board has been – over the last year or so – remarkably balanced in terms of being either anti-police or pro-police. But we’re just in the business of continuous quality improvement. If something’s been done really well, we want to praise it. If something needs improvement, we want to suggest changes. “I think we’ve reached a point of balance where it’s a shame to be too constrained because we’ve been doing a really good job recently.”

On Wednesday, the review board voted unanimously on recommendations for the City Council to develop a plan to comply with the law. During the meeting, the CPRB said the plan should include changes to how residents file complaints.

Weaver spoke during Wednesday’s meeting, arguing that the CPRB is trying to find ways around the law. Board member Reece Ellis responded that his interpretation of the regulation was “not made in good faith.”

“We can no longer hold public meetings to gather opinions on police. We can no longer make recommendations on policies, procedures and training,” Hunt said. “That’s a very severe limitation on what we can do. I think part of the challenge for the city is how we deal with that small framework.”

Check back later for updates.