The group that's been reviewing Columbus Division of Police recruitment, training, policies, and procedures has released its recommendations, including a call for an independent civilian review board.
Mike Foley reports.
In March 2018, Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther appointed 17 members to the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission as part of a comprehensive strategy to address an increase in violent crime and strained police/community relations. Former Columbus City Attorney, Franklin County judge, and United Way CEO Janet Jackson chaired the group, which created 80 recommendations following an 18-month review that included more than 20 meetings, and two public forums.
"We have incorporated many recommendations for community engagement, because building community/police relations is critical to the future success of policing in Columbus," Jackson said. "While we know this recommendation is extremely complex and will require much research, we strongly recommend establishing a civilian review board to participate in the investigation of use-of-force by officers and complaints about serious Columbus Division of Police officer misconduct. These recommendations will build trust that has eroded in minority communities."
Other recommendations include adding civilian liaisons within the recruiting division to assist New American and minority communities, conducting an independent audit of the recruiting testing process, expanding cultural competency training, upgrading and replacing technology, helping officers with coping mechanisms and training to address burnout, integrating into each training module the impact of bias and racism and strategies for officers to use in recognizing and mitigating their own biases, and establishing an internal whistleblower hotline for anonymous submissions of any abuse, racism or harassment. Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther expressed an openness for all recommendations to create trust and meet the expectations of residents.
"Things that will require us to go through a negotiation process will probably take the longest, but we still have to move with a sense of urgency and have a good strategy to implement and get these things done," Ginther said. "We didn't get here overnight. We're not going to fix it overnight. But I don't want folks to feel like there isn't a sense of urgency about this work, because the community is counting on us. Our officers are counting on us, and we've got to get this work done."
After reviewing the recommendations, Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan found only a few that need further clarity including the civilian review board.
"It's very important to figure out what that looks like for us," Quinlan said of the civilian review. "Is it after we conduct the investigation, because the public already has access to all of our investigations. They can read it and comment on it and criticize it or offer insight into what they think we should have done differently. So that's a citizen review. Do we have a dedicated team that does that? Do they participate in the investigation? Just a lot of questions to be answered there. But we're open to finding a way to partner with the community in everything we do. We have nothing to hide from our investigations."
Quinlan says he's implemented about 20 percent of the recommendations from the commission and continues progress on an independent report released last August. Matrix Consulting Group's analysis identified a disconnect between training and policies and the practice in the field. That report also found disparities in the way residents and officers within the division experience policing, including instances of racism and discrimination. The safety commission included one of the most vocal critics of police - Tammy Alsaada. She's championed the rights of citizens at a number of rallies, including one outside the Columbus Police Academy before Mayor Ginther's State of the City address there in 2017. Alsaada is proud of the commission's recommendations but acknowledged more work ahead.
"From what we've learned, there's opposition to oversight in the form of a citizen's review board," Alsaada said. "I served on subcommittees that looked at what other cities have done. What we've learned is that it is a long process. Some will take changing the city charter and things that will take all of us committed to real change in our police department. I know that many of your listeners and all of us have been following this issue. Our police department needs real reforms, and they need them now. Those reforms have to come from a place of us willing to acknowledge there's a real problem. I think we're getting to that place. But once we acknowledge that, we have to be committed to real, transformative change. I hope we're committed to that type of change and mainly from inside the police department."
The recommendations also include continuing the Columbus Community Safety Commission. The specifics are still unclear but at the very least, the members will be monitoring the progress of the recommendations and speak out on how the city's policing neighborhoods.