Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein today released 8 recommendations to reform the culture of justice in the city.
Among the action items, appointing a special counsel to investigate the city's handling of the protests and reviewing police policy and procedures regarding the clearing of streets during peaceful demonstrations to avoid unnecessary confrontations.
Klein also called for changes in charging individuals and amendments to the city code.
"Move charging decisions for alleged misdemeanor criminal offenses to inside the Columbus City Attorney's Office for review before they are filed similar to the way the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office does for felony offenses," Klein continued. "Officers still have the immediate ability to arrest in violent situation, but the city attorney's office will assure only appropriate charges are then filed. Citizens being charged for most non-violent offenses should be receiving a summons instead of arrested and going to jail. Conduct a review of the Columbus City Code related to traffic and pedestrian offenses and examine how enforcement of those traffic and pedestrian offenses adversely affect the black community. I think we should review the code and figure out if we can improve it based on those real perceptions and the reality of those engagements because that it what harbors and builds ill will in the community. If we want to strengthen police/community relations and strengthen trust in the community, we have to have a positive interaction every single time.”
Klein also recommended a change in police use of chemical agents during non-violent protests and additional hours of police training that would immerse cadets into the community to build relationships with residents before they graduate from the academy. Columbus Urban League President and CEO Stephanie Hightower explained she supports the recommendations because the city can't do it alone and as a way to hold officials accountable.
"What's not going to be acceptable is for any of them to come back in a year from now and there's nothing there," Hightower continued. "Because then what will result - and I'm not trying to predict - but you're going to have the same thing that's out here right now. I think what this next generation of young people is saying is that we don't want our legacy to continue to look like this, and there are going to be those kind of demands. So I'm here because I'm going to want to see even just a small step. We're going to ask the city attorney what's going on, so he can use us as the vehicle to go out into the black community and be able to say here's what we know is going on. But I think if we're communicating and partnering like we're doing here right now, that's going to be the key to the kind of change and reform that we need."
The NAACP's Columbus chapter also supports Klein's recommendations. While acknowledging his reforms aren't the only solutions, Klein contends they are steps that can be taken relatively quickly to make a positive change.