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Four Finalists Share Why They Should Be Columbus' Next Police Chief

May 19, 2021

Columbus officials Wednesday night hosted a virtual community forum with the four finalists being considered to oversee the city's police division. 

Moderator Mo Wright of Columbus-based Rama Consulting posed some of the 150 questions sent in by residents over the last week to the four Columbus Police Chief finalists. 

Topics during the 90-minute session included accountability, transparency, reform, and how to repair strained relations between residents and police after last summer's protests and three recent fatal shootings involving people of color at the hands of officers. 

Elaine Bryant spoke first. In her 21st year of law enforcement, Bryant currently serves as a deputy chief in Detroit and sees similarities in Columbus.

"We've had a civilian oversight board since the 1970's," Bryant said. "I have a great relationship with our board of police commissioners. We work with them all the time. They are huge supporters of police, because we've had an opportunity to develop those relationships and they know we are about holding our officers accountable. We've been through a consent decree." 

Bryant described herself as relentless and a problem solver who would increase community involvement in policing, decrease crime, and raise the police division's morale. 

"You have to build your trust and your relationship with the community, and it does not happen overnight," Bryant continued. "You have to humanize that badge. A lot of people look at police officers and see the uniform and a cop. But they are mothers, fathers, uncles, and brothers. Take them out of their element to a neutral spot and do some restorative justice programs. Allow the community and officers to have those conversations so they know how they felt or what they meant because a lot of times, they just make assumptions about them." 

Derrick Diggs serves as police chief in Fort Myers, Florida and also led Toledo's police division and has the most experience of the four with 44 years in law enforcement

"It's about leadership and setting an expectation for the people that work underneath you," Diggs said. "You can't hold officers accountable unless you give them the training and education they need. You have to have supervision and hold them accountable through your supervisors. When officers fall below those expectations, you take corrective actions. The other part of it is - embrace civilian oversight."

Diggs said he would take a cultural diagnosis of the entire police division and encourage officers to show some empathy when possible. 

"In most situations, citizens/officers interactions and contact is the most traumatic experience for these citizens," Diggs continued. "It's very rare for citizens to interact with a police officer. It's very traumatizing and very difficult for them, so show some empathy."

Avery Moore serves as an assistant chief in Dallas. He's had 30 years in law enforcement that included commanding the SWAT unit in 2016 when five officers were killed and another seven injured in an ambush attack. Moore has been the most proactive, already visiting Columbus to meet with stakeholders and community members. 

"So what I know from their testimony is there is an issue when it comes to trusting the police department," Moore said. "So we have to start there. I promised them as their chief we would definitely have a relationship. It has to start with robust conversation that we're not afraid of as it relates to racism or whatever the issue is. The consensus from all my meetings way they want to be included and feel a part of the policing process. We talk about community policing, which is good but we forget about the first word, which is community." 

Moore says he also met with police officers who are ready to change but want consistent leadership. He pledged to listen, learn, and lead.  

"The community is not our enemy," Moore continued. "Let's go out and have some fun. Policing doesn't have to be hard. It's not about enforcement. It's about engagement. Let's go out and say 'Hi' and smile at people. When it's time to put the bad guys in jail, we will."

After 25 years in law enforcement, Ivonne Roman co-founded the 30x30 Initiative, which seeks to increase the representation of women in police recruit classes to 30% by 2030. As Newark, New Jersey police chief, she helped negotiate a consent decree between that city and the Department of Justice. But Roman said she'd enter the Columbus job with an open mind. 

"It takes a sense of humility and a sense of self to know that you don't have all the answers," Roman said. "Too often police officers work in silos, and that hinders innovation and progress in police departments. I pride myself on being a lifelong learner, and that's led me to embrace science. It takes courage to admit when something's not working, and that's what science allows you to do - to evaluate a program and see if it's truly doing what it's intended to do or does it cause harms to communities and relationships."

Roman said the community wants accountability not excuses when it comes to law enforcement. 

"We will learn from our wins but most importantly from our failures so that they don't continue to repeat over and over again," Roman continued. "We will be transparent in what we do and the decisions we make and the policies we create. We're going to do that by building trust and having you engage in that process with us, so that we do create the police department that Columbus can be proud of and stand behind." 

All four candidates expressed a willingness to give the community greater input in what policing in Columbus looks like and added that the recently formed Civilian Review Board will make a difference. Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther has said he'd like the next police chief chosen by the end of this month.  

Here's a link to the full forum