Columbus City Council and Mayor Ginther Call for Creation of Civilian Police Oversight Committee

The Columbus City Council questioned Police Chief Thomas Quinlan on Monday about his officers’ tactics and use of force during five days of protests over the death of a black Minnesota man in police custody.

Following the lead of Council Speaker Shannon Hardin, who was pepper sprayed by police over the weekend along with other local officials, city officials since the mayor have called for a community watchdog committee. civilian police.

However, it will be necessary to wait for the reopening of negotiations on a new police contract. City officials did not say Monday night how long the wait will be. The last contract was approved at the beginning of 2019, and if both parties do not agree to the changes, the previous contract remains in force.

The council was unanimous in its disappointment with the aggressive behavior of the police, which at times seemed unnecessary and left some peaceful protesters scared and confused, and unsure of how to get out of the city center while avoiding further conflict.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther added to the condemnation of the city’s police force, telling the council that the conduct of some officers failed to protect the public and did not “meet our community’s expectations of professionalism”.

Ginther said he supports pushing for a civilian police review board in the next round of contract negotiations with police unions. Ginther also announced a new way for the public to report police misconduct that bypasses the department’s normal Internal Affairs office, where officers investigate other officers.

The public can now send photos, videos and statements that they believe use excessive force to a three-member civilian panel, made up of two civilian administrators from the city’s public safety department, which oversees the police division, and a community religious leader.

But details on how this new review panel will operate, including who they would report recommendations to and how it aligns with the police contract, were not immediately available.

Ginther’s spokeswoman Robin Davis did not respond to an email Monday afternoon asking for the identities of the three panel members, but the mayor said city workers were below grade. of the director.

Quinlan, chief since mid-December, did not react to the new review board, but said he was determined to move forward with changes – many of which won’t be waiting for a new contract. of policy is concluded.

He has already changed normal procedures by removing officers’ direct supervisors from participating in misconduct reviews, saying complaints now go directly to Internal Affairs.

“There’s no shortage of changes,” Quinlan said.

But he blamed many of the problems police faced starting last Thursday and continuing through the weekend on “a core group of bad actors,” many of whom don’t live in Columbus and don’t “ don’t care about the issue of racism in the city.”

“Their agenda is different,” Quinlan said, noting that destruction of property and violence directed at officers — including rocks and bottles thrown at them — needed to be addressed.

Quinlan said agitators were targeting electrical substations to be destroyed, threatening to cut power to the OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and much of downtown.

The department is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to identify the foreigners who rioted, where they came from and whether they were organized into common groups.

The department canceled all vacations and days off due to protests and riots, and paid $684,000 in overtime, Quinlan said.

Quinlan said all roads out of downtown were permanently open to allow and encourage protesters to leave. Only inbound routes were blocked, in part to “cut off the resupply line of people who are here to cause damage”.

While cars were directed onto certain roads to keep them away from the hundreds of people walking the streets, “we didn’t impede the (pedestrians’) freedom to go where they want,” Quinlan said.

But Councilor Rob Dorans said police should have given clear instructions to the crowd on the proper routes out of the town center to avoid further clashes, and officers should not have concealed their badge numbers with their riot gear.

Quinlan has pledged to make the badge numbers visible by taping them to the back of the helmets. He said the division’s body cameras are not designed to be worn over riot gear and will not be used.

Councilman Mitchell Brown, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, called for a full review of the engagement of peaceful protesters and officers, and if de-escalation practices were not followed, “the appropriate people must be held accountable”.

In other matters, the board passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Columbus, following identical action by the Columbus Public Health Board of Directors earlier Monday.

“We all need to be part of the change we need to see and that’s why I know we’re all here today,” city health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts said at a conference. digital press broadcast live on Facebook.

Roberts said African Americans have been subject to racial health disparities for more than 400 years, leading to shorter lives and long-term problems. Racism, Roberts said, has gripped communities from a public health perspective.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the death of Minnesota man George Floyd have revealed just how big a public health concern racism is, Roberts said.

About 17% of the 2,206 Ohioans killed by COVID-19 were black, according to the Ohio Department of Health. In contrast, African Americans make up about 12% of Ohio’s population.

In the past, infant mortality has also been a problem in Ohio that public health officials have pointed to as evidence of health disparities between white and black communities.

The ongoing protests, coupled with the fallout from COVID-19 and other health concerns, show that Columbus and Ohio are at a crossroads when it comes to racism as a public health issue, said Karen Morrison, president of the Columbus Board of Health.

“We all have a part to play and I believe we will hold each other accountable,” Morrison said. “When we improve the health of minority communities, we improve the health of our entire community.”

Journalist Max Filby contributed to this story.

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