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Columbus Police Begin Training Officers For Vice Unit Replacement

Recruits at the Columbus Police Academy are trained for the department's new Police And Community Together Team.
Adora Namigadde
Recruits at the Columbus Police Academy are trained for the department's new Police And Community Together Team.

The Columbus Division of Police kicked off training Wednesday for the Police and Community Together Team, which is replacing the disbanded Vice Unit.

PACT aims to open communication between Columbus Police and the people they serve, as well as to keep officers accountable.

Interim Police Chief Tom Quinlan says the biggest change is that the unit will no longer be covert.

“This is strictly going to be a plainclothes uniform position, where we work with both individuals in a marked cruiser coming in, and confronting people making arrests so there's no mistake the police are present,” Quinlan says.

Quinlan originally announcedthe creation of PACT in July, as part of an organizational restructuring. At the time, he said the Vice Unit suffered from a "failure of leadership" and a "failure of supervision."

In contrast to Vice, most of PACT's actions will be specific to an investigation, so officers will not be permanently assigned to the new unit.

“It will be event-driven," Quinlan explains. "So if we wanna do an operation, we're allowed to have people by contract up to 60 days into a unit. Depending on the operation, we can go less than that.”

Quinlan hopes officers will take lessons from the undercover operations back into their uniformed patrol work.

Timeline: Investigation Of Columbus Police Vice Unit

Mandie Matthews graduated from CATCH Court in 2017.  The program, which stands for “Changing Actions To Change Habits," is a specialty docket within the Franklin County court system to help people arrested for sex work.

Matthews presented to future officers at the Columbus Police Academy to help them develop greater empathy for people who do sex work.

“I'm hoping they learn some kind of compassion for the women out there, because I was out there before,” Matthews says. “And it's really important that they approach the women with a more compassionate manner than aggressive.”

She says police are often the first point of contact on the road for women who eventually end up in programs like CATCH Court.

“I think with trainings like this and CATCH Court, and everybody getting involved and knowing what it takes to work with women in the streets, that there could be a better success rate for women to get help,” Matthews says.

Referrals for CATCH Court dropped by half after the Vice Unit was disbandedin March, according to program coordinator and Franklin County Judge Paul Herbert.

“What we're hoping is as many women can get helped as possible. Whatever that number may be,” Herbert says. “Referrals were down 50% at its lowest point. but we have the infrastructure in place currently to do double that, and we're hoping that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 women a year will be good.”

Quinlan says the PACT team will work with community members and faith leaders to repair the relationship between police officers and citizens.

The abolishment of the Vice Unit came after former officer Andrew Mitchell was indicted on federal charges of kidnapping women under the pretense of an arrest, and forcing them to have sex in exchange for their freedom.

Several other Vice officers have been removed from duty as a result of an internal investigation stemming from the killing of Donna Castleberry and the arrest of Stormy Danielslast summer. Five officers face disciplinefor their involvement in Daniels' arrest.

An FBI investigation into the Vice Unit is still ongoing.

If you have information to share about the Vice Unit, contact WOSU at adora@wosu.org.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.