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Police union asks that Columbia chief be fired

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The union representing Columbia police officers has asked the city manager to fire Chief Ken Burton, contending he has hurt morale by not responding to complaints from officers and making misleading statements in a radio interview.

The Columbia Fraternal Order of Police formally asked City Manager Mike Matthes on Wednesday to fire Burton, said union executive director Ashley Cuttle.

Matthes said Thursday he had not yet read all of the union’s 349-page report, but had heard from officers he described as “very angry” with the union.

“They said they were never consulted, and did not get what the FOP gave to me,” Matthes said. He also said citizens have told him “they are very displeased with the FOP, they’re 100 percent supporting the chief and they’re fairly disgusted with the antics” of the union.

Burton said he believes most officers in the department support him and those who are criticizing him are having a difficult time adjusting to changes he’s making in the department, The Columbia Tribune reported.

The union’s report highlighted statements Burton made during a radio interview concerning a recent organizational review, which found police department employee morale has dropped and “the supervisory culture is approaching toxicity.”

Cuttle said Burton’s statements in the interview blamed many department problems on command staff and cast an unfavorable light on the police department. The union also alleges department leaders have not responded to the union’s request for changes.

The union began publicly criticizing Burton last year after he fired officer Rob Sanders following an incident that left an inmate in a police holding cell with a broken back. Burton fired Sanders even though an internal investigation cleared Sanders of any wrongdoing. The chief said he did not believe the investigation was properly conducted.

Burton calls the latest criticism a response to his efforts to hold officers accountable for their actions.

“Rules had to be put into place to get things under control,” Burton said.

Cuttle said the request to have Burton fired was not based solely on Sanders’ firing.

“To put it all on the Rob Sanders incident does not give justice to the other 143 members I represent,” Cuttle said.

The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police’s executive board also has voted to condemn Burton’s actions related to Sanders’ firing. The statewide group includes representatives from 10 police departments other than Columbia’s.

“To a man we found Chief Burton’s actions to be reprehensible and for this reason we took the unusual step of formally condemning Chief Burton’s actions,” Missouri FOP president Kevin Ahlbrand said in a news release.

Burton criticized union leadership and said officers are leaving the group because they do not approve of its direction. He said the department will continue to address recommendations made in the organizational report.

“Eat the elephant one bite at a time,” Burton said. “We will never be a perfect organization. I don’t know of one.”

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