Columbus Mayor Ginther Says Civilian Police Watch Group Will Be Appointed

Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther will establish a model civilian police independent review board by July and serve on the committee by January, he said.

The city is also reevaluating the use of chemical irritants and sprays to disperse crowds, Ginther said at a news conference Friday.

“The only power law enforcement has is that granted to them by the community,” Ginther said. “The chain of command ultimately leads to the people of this town.”

But before a civilian board begins investigating the actions of a Columbus officer, the city must amend its contract with the police union, which expires at the end of the year. The city is ready to begin negotiations, Ginther said.

“These recommendations will bolster the trust that has been eroded in the minority community,” said Janet Jackson, chair of a Ginther-appointed community safety advisory board.

The advisory group was announced in January 2018 following a series of police shootings in Columbus that rocked the community.

The committee released recommendations in January that included the creation of a civilian review board. But no action had been announced since, until Friday.

City Council President Shannon Hardin called for the idea of ​​an oversight committee to go forward. He, other local black politicians and other protesters were pepper sprayed by police last weekend during downtown protests over police brutality and the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police .

While much of the discussion since has been about police accountability, “the truth is there has to be accountability for the mayor, myself, and the police chief,” Hardin said Friday.

Also on Friday, Gov. Mike DeWine said a member of the Ohio National Guard deployed to Washington, D.C. this week expressed what the governor called “white supremacy ideology” on the pages of social media before its deployment.

The guard has been suspended from all assignments, DeWine said.

“While I fully support everyone’s right to free speech, the men and women of the Guard are sworn to protect all of us, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion,” DeWine said. “Anyone who is mean to specific groups of Americans has no place in the Ohio National Guard.”

If a federal investigation confirms the allegation, the person will be permanently removed from the Ohio National Guard, DeWine said.

Ohio sent 100 Guardsmen to the capital at the request of the US Secretary of Defense, DeWine said.

At the city’s press conference on Friday, Police Chief Thomas Quinlan was asked if police acted more aggressively toward Floyd protesters than they did in April toward protesters in the Statehouse that demanded an end to the state’s coronavirus stay-at-home orders.

Quinlan said the police don’t care who the protesters are or what their message is — only what their actions are. Coronavirus protesters were not throwing objects at police or smashing windows at the Statehouse and businesses.

The Floyd protests, on the other hand, turned into riots endangering the safety of officers, Quinlan said.

“I have a duty to protect the public, but I also have a duty to protect the officers,” Quinlan said. In the first days of the protests, 166 officers were injured and several required hospitalization, he said.

Several commission members noted that the coronavirus protesters, most of whom were white, were treated better even though some had automatic weapons.

However, while most of the Floyd protesters were unarmed, some also brandished guns and baseball bats. When Quinlan marched with protesters on Tuesday, a young man he marched and chatted with openly carried a large semi-automatic handgun holstered across his chest, and guns were visible during protests outside City Hall .

“We are focused on their actions,” Quinlan said, noting that police have a legal duty to respond to the destruction of property.

“I want everyone here to take a break,” Jackson quipped, noting that damage to “objects and things” is different from damage to “souls and spirits.”

Some members of the commission questioned the need to use tear gas, saying its health effects are unclear and at times its use appears to provoke protesters and heighten tensions.

But without that, “what other options did you leave us with?” Quinlan asked, suggesting it would be far more dangerous for everyone if police were to physically confront protesters.

Some members of the commission accused the police of using chemical gases and sprays on peaceful protesters who were doing no harm.

Several discussed videos circulating on social media showing police not following departmental guidelines by firing wooden bullets, which should never be fired directly at people but rather “jumped” out of the ground.

Ginther said many of these guidelines themselves are weak, meeting only a minimum legal standard.

Quinlan responded that any video evidence of officers not adhering to use-of-force guidelines should be forwarded to the department for investigation.

“I had them night and day; we can’t even keep up,” said Jackson, a former Franklin County City Court judge and Columbus city attorney.

Also on Friday, the Columbus Chapter of the NAACP demanded that any new Citizen Police Review Board have subpoena powers.

The chapter also wants the city council to pass legislation “imposing a zero-tolerance approach to penalizing and/or prosecuting police officers who kill unarmed, non-violent, non-resistant individuals during arrest proceedings.”

“We’re not going to settle for less,” Columbus branch president Nana Watson said during the noon press conference at Trinity Baptist Church on the Near East Side.

She also said the NAACP has no interest in forming a partnership with the Columbus Police Union, the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, although she wants to have a conversation with the union about the community concerns.

Larry Price, who heads the NAACP chapter’s criminal justice committee, said subpoena powers are needed because too many other civilian review boards across the country have no teeth or powers.

“For far too many centuries, black people across the country have been treated as if our lives meant nothing,” Price said. “We have been brutalized, murdered, ignored and more. Enough is enough. We are tired of seeing our black family members lying lifeless on the street. »

The local NAACP also wants more officer training on racial bias, mental health and de-escalation tactics; a ban on kneeling and strangulation; more minority officers; and a review of records to determine whether officer misconduct is immune from public disclosure.

DeWine said Friday that he and the General Assembly have discussed police reforms and will continue to do so. He said he would reveal details of the reforms soon.

“I am committed to making tangible changes in police oversight, training, licensing and accountability,” DeWine said. “Our goal is to improve the professionalism of the profession.”

DeWine, a former Greene County prosecutor, said most of the police officers he’s met are “wonderful individuals,” but “we also know that sometimes someone slips up and we have to be ever vigilant.”

Dispatch reporter Alissa Widman Neese contributed to this story.

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