© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Columbus Residents Meet Police Chief Finalists In Community Forum

Tom Quinlan (left) and Perry Tarrant (right) at a forum for the finalists of the Columbus Police Chief position.
Adora Namigadde
Interim Chief Tom Quinlan (left) and Perry Tarrant (right) are finalists for the Columbus police chief opening

The two finalists vying to become Columbus' next police chief answered a range of questions in a Thursday evening forum designed to help the community get a feel for both people.

The city of Columbus is hiring a new police chief following the retirement of former chief Kim Jacobs in February.

Thirty-six people applied for the job in October, and five finalists had preliminary interviews a couple of weeks ago. Now it's down to two.

One of the finalists, Interim Police Chief Tom Quinlan, has been in the department for 30 years, while retired Seattle Assistant Police Chief Perry Tarrant is a new face in the city.

A Calm, Structured Evening

The police forum at East High School had a strict structure. Each candidate was allowed 10 minutes to give an opening statement, the moderator read questions the community submitted online or on handwritten cards, and each candidate had two minutes to give a final word.

A coin toss before the event determined that candidate Tarrant got to start.

“I started my law enforcement career after being stopped by the police. It did not go well. And so I had two options,” Tarrant explained. “One was to complain and let that be my solution, resolution and trauma. And two was work on changing the organization.”

Tarrant isn’t from Columbus. He retired in September last year from Seattle’s assistant police chief position. Before that, he worked in Yakima, Wash., and he started his career in Tucson, Ariz. in 1980.  

Perry Tarrant engaging with audience members before the forum
Credit Adora Namigadde

Both Tarrant and Quinlan focused on community policing and efforts they’ve made to improve police-neighborhood relations. Tarrant brought up an app that youth in Seattle devised to help officers de-escalate tense situations.

“What that group of youth ultimately did was build an app that’s on the smartphone of every cop in Seattle, which gives that officer the ability to engage in de-escalation immediately with someone who’s involved in that episode,” Tarrant said.

The app delineates hooks and triggers. Hooks are techniques or phrases officers can use to encourage compliance, and triggers are phrases or actions officers should avoid when trying to de-escalate interactions.

Tarrant has been named a finalist for police chief positions across the country, including Portland, Ore. He is a former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

In contrast with Tarrant, Quinlan has been with the Columbus Police his entire 30-year career. He made pitches to the community about the work he’s done since he was appointed interim head of the division earlier this year.

“We made some hard decisions. One of the first that’s most notable is and on everyone’s mind is disbanding the Vice Unit,” Quinlan said. “We were willing to make those hard choices.”

Interim Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan engaging with the audience before the event
Credit Adora Namigadde

Quinlan also mentioned visiting churches on Sundays to engage with Latinos, his desire to start a youth police advisory committee and the need to meet with a community advisory on a regular basis to hold police accountable.

“Basically if we mess up, we’re gonna fess up and clean up. And that’s the bottom line,” Quinlan said to applause.

Both Tarrant and Quinlan were met with applause after several comments, although Tarrant was applauded more frequently.

How the Community Reacted

The auditorium at East High School was close to full. Dawn Tyler Lee, head of the police chief search committee, asked attendees under the age of 21 to stand up and be recognized for attending - a total of about 10 people. The auditorium was filled near to capacity, and some people who came late formed a standing row in the back to listen.

Donie Dawson grew up in Columbus, and says he found Tarrant more favorable.

“Quinlan is just a typical police officer,” Dawson said. “That’s how he presented himself, that’s what I saw.”

He says the future chief’s investment in the community is paramount.

Henry Bryant Jr. wasn’t so sure who to favor. He thinks there’s a potential advantage to continuing with Quinlan.

“I am a big fan of internal candidates, but I’m also a big fan of external candidates. The gentleman on the left has been with the Columbus Police for a while,” Bryant said in reference to Quinlan. “It’s a great match, I wanna see who wins at the end.”

Bryant said he came to the event with an open mind.

“Sometimes I can be close-minded. So I came with an open mind,” Bryant said. “I thought both of them had strong points about wanting to help and change the community.”

For activist Hanna Abdur-Rahim, the forum felt pointless.

“I feel like this was almost a waste of time,” Abdur-Rahim said. “Because the mayor at the end of the day he’s gonna choose who he wants.”

If Tarrant wins the role, it would be the first time in Columbus history that the police chief has not been chosen from among the department's ranks.

What’s Next

The decision of who becomes chief rests in the city’s hands. The search committee includes:

  • Dawn Tyler Lee, Chair, Deputy Chief of Staff of External Affairs in the Office of the Mayor
  • Dallas Baldwin, Franklin County Sheriff
  • Dee Debenport, Coordinator, Merion Village Block Watch
  • Stephanie Hightower, President, Columbus Urban League
  • Reverend Dr. Jefferey P. Kee, New Faith Baptist Church of Christ
  • Kenny Ramos, Retired Sergeant, Columbus Division of Police
  • Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, Development Director, Equality Ohio
  • Pastor Brian Williams, Hope City House of Prayer

Mayor Andrew Ginther, Council member Mitch Brown and Public Safety Director Ned Pettus are also involved in the search. They could select a new chief by the end of the year.

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.