An independent report of Columbus Division of Police operations has revealed disparities in the way residents and officers within the division experience policing.
Matrix Consulting Group's 9-month analysis included telephone surveys with 700 residents and 10 in-person, focus group sessions around the city. When it comes to Columbus policing, 80 percent overall had a positive perception. But that dropped to 61 percent among black residents. Matrix president and project leader Richard Brady says his group interviewed about 200 employees within the division and hundreds more completed surveys. Overall, the internal survey showed 29 percent of respondents witnessed discrimination in the last five years - and 20 percent personally experienced discrimination. But 70 percent of black respondents witnessed discrimination within the division and 30 percent witnessed an officer discriminate against a resident.
"Overall the issues relate to a disconnect that occurs between the theory of effective policies, effective training, first line supervision and management, and the practice in the field," Brady said. "Most of these 140 recommendations relate to how to more effectively to do that. One is to work better with the community in terms of defining what that relationship should be. There are some gaps in policy relating to being more consistent in the way you approach use of force, de-escalation techniques, etc, which are evolutionarily tweaking the progress that the police division has already made in those areas."
The report noted a steady decline in use of force cases, and that police body worn cameras are helping to provide a level of transparency. There were 607 use of force incidents in 2013, and 438 in 2017. But again, a closer look revealed a disparity. More than half of those cases in 2017 involved black residents. Columbus interim police chief Tom Quinlan.
"The numbers themselves aren't representative of a culture in the police or in the community," Quinlan said. "They are representative of an opportunity to find every chance we can to improve the experience everyone has with police. If the police can find ways to engage the public in a way that does not require use of force and can deescalate better, even if it's one or five or ten, those all add up and they all matter. Every use of force, we want to avoid because officers get hurt as often as anyone else. But we also have an obligation to protect each other, protect ourselves, and protect the public. So we're trying to strike that balance."
Quinlan says of the 140 recommendations, more than half of them have already been implemented or are in the process of being phased in. Matrix also analyzed a full year of service calls beginning with September 2017. Columbus police responded to more than 390,000 calls for service, ranging from a car crash to a domestic violence report. Brady noted that the time to interact proactively with the community is shortened because officers are constantly running from call to call. He says the police division can't redeploy its way out of it, but it can reduce the number of two-officer cars that respond. Mayor Andy Ginther says the lengthy report and recommendations will not just sit on a shelf.
"There's more work to do within our division and in our community," Ginther said. "We will explore Matrix recommendations to provide more effective and immediate supervision to patrol officers. We will also explore the recommendations for improving deployment of our officers, so an appropriate number of officers are on duty in the right place at the right time. This may include reducing or eliminating the number of two-person patrol units, making sure sergeants are able to respond to the scenes, and civilianizing some jobs currently held by uniformed officers. Finally, the importance of officer wellness. Here's a staggering truth - more officers die by their own hand than by criminals. There's no question that the job of a police officer is one of the most stressful, and we must provide the tools for officer wellness. Matrix found significant room for enhancing officer well-being, including expanding the definition of trauma and continuing to instill a stronger, cultural understanding around the need for psychological care."
Janet Jackson - who chairs the mayor's Community Safety Advisory Commission - says the group will incorporate the Matrix data into its recommendations, which she expects to be ready in the coming weeks. Jackson says the goal is to have a strategy that makes Columbus a leader in public safety and community relations.
The full Matrix report can be found here.