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Some Residents Want Summer Policing Program To Go Away

Esther Honig
At protest in June for the fatal police shooting of Henry Green, Tammy Alsaada spoke to supporters about ending the summer policing initiative.

This summer, the City of Columbus has once again upped its policing efforts in neighborhoods identified as having high crime. Police call these areas hot-spots, and send in extra officers and specialty units to try and control shootings, burglaries and drug dealing.

But some residents are calling for an end to the summer policing program known as the Community Safety Initiative, or the CSI.

In part two of our series, we explored alternatives past and present.

Henry Green

Earlier this summer, Tammy Alsaada a local organizer for the People’s Justice Project, stood on the steps of Franklin County Municipal Courthouse speaking to a group of protestors.

"We need to take the power that we posses upstairs and downtown to city hall to demand justice for Henry Green," Alsaada shouted into a bullhorn.

In June, Henry Green was shot by two plain-clothed officers working in the summer police program. They say he refused to drop a gun, but eyewitnesses say Green had not broken the law and was shot before he could comply.

That day Alsaada joined community leaders as well as a group of 25 Bishops and Pastors to say Green’s death was part of a systemic problem--the Community Safety Initiative.

Warmer temperatures, crime goes up

Each year as summer temperatures increase, so do crime rates. The most concerning of which are shootings and homicides. To combat the spike in crime, an increase in summer patrols was started back in 2005. Originally the program was called Strike Force, but over the years it's had many names. Alsaada says for the people who live in the targeted neighborhoods, summer policing has always meant the same thing.

"They go into a community to take guns off the streets and to identify gang members and illegal activity, but I liken it, and many community people liken it, to a set up in their community," said Alsaada.

Police say they use neighborhood input and crime stats to identify so-called hotspots. Each year at the height of summer, additional police officers from other precincts, some with little inner-city experience, are sent to patrol these zones. And at times, to avoid detection, officers in the CSI will patrol in plainclothes and unmarked cars, Alsaada says that's earned them a nickname, "the jump-out boys."

"Stories started surfacing about unlawful searches and seizures. Police pulling up in unmarked cars, jumping out on young groups of young black men, throwing them to the ground," said Alsaada.

These maps of aggravated assaults (red dots) and homicides (black dots) were generated by WOSU using the online program, Online Raids. Columbus Police use a similar version of the program to map out crime rates for the Community Safety Initiative.

Targeted areas

Year after year they focus on areas within the same neighborhoods: The Hilltop, Linden, East Side and the South Side. At the end of every summer, police report the number of arrests, drugs and guns taken off the street. Alsaada says those stats don’t say much.

"I know that arrests are arrests, we need to know how many convictions were had. How many of those arrests were lawful arrests, how many of those searches and seizures were lawful," said Alsaada.

For a program that cost more than half a million dollars a year, there’s no analysis of whether or not the CSI drives down crime in these neighborhoods. Commander Gary Cameron has worked on the CSI for the last decade and says they rely on crime rates for the city as a whole.

"As our community expands, as our city gets larger, our crime rates stay the same and that’s a good thing. That’s effectiveness," said Cameron.

Columbus Police stats

According to Columbus Police, robberies are down in recent years, but murder and aggravated assault have fluctuated.

Credit Columbus Police 2015 Annual Report / WOSU
According to data reported by the Columbus Police Department the rate of homicides has not declined, but fluctuated throughout the years

A 2015 community survey by police found more than 60 percent of residents think the summer police program does not improve the level of safety in their neighborhood. Seventy percent want police to work harder to create relationships with residents. Cameron says in the last year Chief of police, Kim Jacobs, has pushed to improve community relations now more than ever.

"She was insistent that we go to recreation centers and talk with kids or just park your car and go and talk to people," said Cameron.

Cameron knows the shooting of Green brought heavy criticism of summer patrol increases. This year he says their goal is for CSI officers to spend more than 50 percent of their time in uniform, but he says these undercover patrols are still necessary.

"It’s hard to sit down in a police cruiser and watch people break into cars, I mean obviously if you’re in a police cruiser, people are going to walk past, criminals aren’t going to do what they do," explained Cameron.

A walk through South Linden

On a hot August afternoon I visited the South Linden neighborhood. Walking down Dresden Avenue, just a few block from where Green was fatally shot, I asked residents how they felt with an increased police presence in their neighborhood during the summer.

A lot of the residents I talk to like Marvin Williams are in favor of the CSI.

“I think it’s fantastic, cause the more police presence we have, the more that people realize that law and order are going to be kept in this neighborhood,” said Williams.

Many of the young people I spoke with expressed distrust for police in their neighborhood, like 23-year-old Markquin Hood who was familiar with the term, jump-out boys.

“The jump-out boys is like a SWAT Team undercover task force. And they go out to stop people’s who’s doing drugs. But some of them when they don’t do drugs they just jump out on them for no reason.”

Hood says, the other day something happened that reminded him police and residents both want the same thing, justice.

"Last night this police officer came by and watch us play basketball," Hood said. "He was a pretty good officer."

This story is the first part of a WOSU series on efforts to decrease shootings and homicides in some of Columbus' most at-risk areas. Part 2 will air during All Things Considered Thursday afternoon.