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Faith Leaders Frustrated With Community Safety Advisory Commission

Mike Foley

After a wave of controversial police-involved shootings, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther last year created a commission to gather community input on how to make the city's Division of Police more responsive.  But community leaders who've attended the hearings say they've been heavy on police presentations - and light recommendations for change.  Alison Holm reports.

Two religious leaders who attended the latest meeting of the Columbus Safety Advisory Commission say they're frustrated with the pace of the committee tasked with coming up with ways to make policing in Columbus more equitable and fair.  Amanda Hayes, interim minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Church says her spiritual beliefs led to her a very specific recommendation for the Columbus Division of Police.

"In my faith tradition we know that everyone needs accountability, because power can go to our heads.  And a gun and a badge are a lot of power.  So, the police can't police themselves.  Other cities have civilian review boards, but the closest thing we have to a civilian review board in Columbus is a grand jury process - that has only indicted one time over the past 20 years.  So, we need a standing civilian review board with real power."  

Reverend Richard Johnson of the Sanctuary Columbus Church says he believes the police have made some progress.  He points to the decision to require new recruits to go through de-escalation and implicit bias training.  

"But for existing officers, they are not making that firm of a decision.  So the progress I believe, is very slow and not strong enough."  

And he says he has not gotten any sense of when the Commission will wrap up its fact finding and begin finding ways to work community concerns and recommendations into city policy.

"Soon the mayor's going to be talking to the city about the police chief search.  How is it that he will be able to really inform the city about that search if he doesn't have in writing the recommendations from this committee?"  

The Community Safety Advisory Commission has held 15 meetings since it was formed last year.  The city hired an outside firm in July 2018 to help craft the recommendations for changes in the Police Division. 

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.
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