Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther delivered his second State of the City speech last night at the Columbus Police Academy.
While his inaugural address last year at his high school alma mater had a homecoming feel, last night's speech had an entirely different atmosphere - at least outside. Mike Foley explains.
Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther’s first comments on public safety came about 30 minutes into his nearly hour-long speech, but the topic surfaced well before that near the academy’s entrance.
The rally included members of the People’s Justice Project and relatives of two black males killed in police-involved shootings. Protesters held signs that read ‘Justice for Tyre King, Justice for Henry Green and Justice for Columbus.’ The 13-year-old King was shot and killed by Columbus Police officer Bryan Mason September 14th. Police officials have said King reached for a pellet gun that looked like a real firearm. The family wants an independent investigation. The 23-year-old Green was shot and killed by police June 6th after they say he fired a handgun in their direction. Family members have that undercover officers did not identify themselves as police. In November, the state launched its own inquiry into the shooting. People’s Justice Project Organizer Tammy Alsaada expressed frustration with the lack of answers.
“So we’ll continue to ask Mayor Ginther to weigh in because the citizens of Columbus are not happy. And we only are calling for justice and a fair and complete investigation. It’s unacceptable. And I watch elected officials one after the other and I would hope that some of them would step over here with the people. But they’re walking in that room and standing so they’re just as guilty because they represent us. What does it really mean when you come to our communities and ask for our vote and when we’re standing here begging for your attention, you walk by.”
Alsaada’s group had also called for an end to the city’s summer safety initiative, but that effort will continue year-round with some changes and a slightly-adjusted name. Ginther – already inside the academy at the time of the protest – spoke with reporters following his speech.
“We have met with People’s Justice Project and other leaders, and I sat down personally with the NAACP and their leadership. We will continue talking and working with the community. We’ve retooled the community safety initiative, similar to how we have every year since the initiative went into place in 2003 - plain clothes officers will be doing surveillance and intelligence-gathering, uniform officers will be doing enforcement. That has been the policy in the past but we’re making it abundantly clear. The other thing is we’re moving away from targeting neighborhoods and now focusing on crime and where it’s taking place.”
During his prepared remarks, Ginther acknowledged a need to increase the diversity of the city's safety forces.
“This year we will apply for a U.S. Department of Justice COPs grant. If awarded, we will be able to dramatically increase the size of our minority recruitment unit, hire additional police officers and focus on strategies to recruit women and minorities to join the ranks of Columbus police and fire.”
The city will also begin work on a new volunteer civilian patrol. And on March 2nd, Ginther says the city will hold a public forum with the NAACP on police body-worn cameras and hear from officers who’ve been using them. Other initiatives outside of public safety announced during the speech dealt with education. The Hilltop Early Childhood Partnership seeks to double the number of children enrolled in quality pre-kindergarten by 2020. The Hilltop area has been identified as having the lowest such enrollment in Columbus. Ginther says the city will also expand career-based training by establishing the Construction Trades Education Fund, with an initial investment of about $1 million. The mayor also highlighted other upcoming projects.
“This year will bring new sidewalks and refurbished traffic signals to Marion Franklin, specifically along Fairwood Avenue between Wayland Drive and Watkins Road. On the Southside, we are working to redevelop the last two vacant parcels on the former Schottenstein site. A total of 122 affordable housing units as well as retail space along Parsons Avenue will begin construction this year. Our Recreation and Parks Department will upgrade Indian Mound Recreation Center to serve the growing Southside neighborhood.”
Ginther also announced that the final two buildings of the old Poindexter Village will be preserved. He says the city will make a significant contribution to the creation of a Central Ohio African-American History Museum at the site, but would not specify exactly how much that would be.