The Columbus Dispatch

More still expected in police reform

- Bethany Bruner

Eighteen months after efforts to reform Columbus police began in earnest in 2020, some progress has been made – but more is expected next year both as a matter of process and by the community.

In March 2021, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther appointed nine members, and a month later the city council added two more to the first Civilian Police Review Board. In June, the city hired Elaine Bryant from Detroit as its first Black female police chief and the first chief from outside the division.

In September, the city hired Robert Clark, a former FBI agent and internatio­nal police chief as its new public safety director, also a first from outside the city.

The city also made efforts to rebuild trust with the community by agreeing to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit with a group of 32 protesters who sued over injuries sustained by excessive police force they said was used against them during racial injustice protests in 2020.

That settlement, approved Dec. 13 by the Columbus City Council, cost the city nearly $6 million. As part of the settlement, the city agreed that police would no longer use pepper spray, tear gas, wooden pellets, flash-bang grenades, batons, body slams, pushing or pulling against non-violent protesters. “Non-violent” is defined as protesters who are “chanting, verbally confrontin­g police, sitting, holding their hands up when approachin­g police, occupying sidewalks or streets, apart from expressway­s or freeways, and/or passively resisting police.”

However, more steps are likely to take place in 2022 that will further reforms going forward.

The city’s first inspector general should be hired in early 2022 by the city’s first seated Civilian Police Review Board. This position, which was posted in November, drew 29 applicatio­ns from across the country. Those applicatio­ns were narrowed down to 13 by mid-december by the national search firm of Ralph Andersen and Associates, which helped the city in two police chief searches and a national search for a fire chief.

The chosen candidate will have to be approved by a vote of two-thirds of the 11-member board, then confirmed by Ginther.

The inspector general will serve for a five-year term, with a second five-year term possible. This person will also be able to hire their own staff to help conduct investigat­ions into allegation­s of police misconduct.

After being seated, the board held its first few meetings in fall 2021 with the purpose of creating and enacting bylaws and other regulatory requiremen­ts. With that work mostly in the rearview, the board will be able to begin the work it was assigned: reviewing investigat­ions of police misconduct.

In response to the rising level of violent crime in Columbus, as well as a record number of retirement­s and departures from the Division of Police in 2021, Ginther proposed funding for three police and three fire recruit classes in 2022.

The police classes are anticipate­d to have about 70 recruits each, with training taking about six months at the academy before field training begins. For police, field training and a probationa­ry period for officers lasts a year after graduation from the academy.

The fire recruits will also undergo about six months of training at the academy before starting field training.

Classes for both police and fire recruits are expected to start in June, with graduation in early 2023, September and December.

The city has seen a decline in the number of applicatio­ns for police officer positions over the last several years, however, the diversity among applicants has increased.

For the second straight year, 2021 broke the annual record for homicides reported in Columbus. As of Monday, there were 199 people slain in the city.

Ginther has said the city will continue to look for ways to address the violence and engage the community, particular­ly young people, in ways that will help reduce violence.

“The safety of our residents in all neighborho­ods remains the highest priority, and we will continue to address the violence from all angles: prevention, interventi­on and apprehensi­on,” Ginther said in a statement. “Our approach remains holistic, across all city department­s and with partners outside of the city through the Comprehens­ive Neighborho­od Safety Strategy, as we also continue to restore trust between the community and police.”

Bryant has been in office for about six months after being appointed in June 2021. She has spent much of that time becoming acquainted with the division, doing internal audits to determine how resources could be better used and addressing immediate concerns surroundin­g community violence.

Bryant has also introduced initiative­s including “Operation Unity,” which has taken place once on the East Side and once in the Hilltop/franklinto­n area, to target criminal activity in a small area, as well as providing other community services such as informatio­n about child care, addiction services and resources for families. Those operations are likely to continue in 2022.

As part of her appointmen­t, Bryant has to become a certified police officer in Ohio within the first year of her service in Columbus. She has been taking classes to reach that goal, which has to be accomplish­ed by late June 2022.

The city will also spend millions of dollars on updating body and dash cameras for police officers that will automatica­lly turn on and capture an extended lookback window of audio and video. There is no set timeline yet for when those cameras will be fully implemente­d.

In 2022, design and constructi­on is also scheduled to begin for a real-time crime center that will allow data analysis and strategic deployment of department resources from a central location, as well as house the city’s expanded alternativ­e response program.

Clark said he is “fully committed” to working with police to make Columbus safer in 2022.

“That means investing in diverse, well-trained police classes. It means strengthen­ing transparen­cy and accountabi­lity through the latest bodyworn camera technology. It means giving our officers the training, tools and support they need to do their essential work to the best of their ability,” Clark said in a statement. “And it means meeting our residents where they are – extending the hand of investment and engagement to those willing to fight with us.”

Other changes could come as a result of the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) review of the police division.

The review is a result of an invitation extended to the DOJ by Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein to come to Columbus.

Police Chief Elaine Bryant has said the COPS review will cover several areas, including reviewing policies, officer training, technology and an early warning system to try and identify officers who may be in need of services prior to a critical incident taking place.

The COPS review has been described as a softer type of pattern and practice review than would be conducted by the DOJ’S main investigat­ive teams, which could have resulted in a lawsuit and a consent decree forcing changes in the police division.

That has brought criticism from some community and religious leaders, including members of the Columbus Police Accountabi­lity Project (CPAP).

“A review does not address the wrongs that have been inflicted upon the citizens of Columbus for years and does not lead to accountabi­lity for past bad acts, nor does it ensure protection from these bad acts in the future,” said attorney Sean Walton, one of the CPAP founders who has represente­d family members of people killed by police.

Walton called the current level of DOJ review an “egregious misstep and missed opportunit­y.” @bethany_bruner

“That means investing in diverse, well-trained police classes. It means strengthen­ing transparen­cy and accountabi­lity through the latest body-worn camera technology. It means giving our officers the training, tools and support they need to do their essential work to the best of their ability.” Robert Clark Public safety director

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