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Columbus Leaders Seek To Put Civilian Review Board On November Ballot

Columbus Police vehicles outside the division headquarters.
David Holm
Columbus Police vehicles outside the division headquarters.

Columbus voters will have a chance to weigh in on police oversight in November. City leaders on Monday announced a charter amendment that would create a Civilian Review Board, a major goal of police reformers.

Mayor Andrew Ginther has already promised the review board will be a central topic of discussion in upcoming contract negotiations with the local police union. But he and other Columbus leaders felt that making the review board an amendment to the city’s charter would ensure its permanence and effectiveness for years to come. 

“Over the past month, I have received thousands of emails, letters, calls on this topic,” said Columbus City Council member Rob Dorans on Monday. “One of the biggest things that I have heard, I know Council President Harden, the mayor, and others have heard, is the lack of trust folks have within the current system. It’s ironic – that is one of the key principles that national experts told us we need to establish an independent civilian review right here in the city of Columbus.”

Columbus is one of the largest cities in the country that does not already have a Civilian Review Board. The board would provide independent oversight of the Columbus Division of Police, as well as appoint an inspector general, who would head independent investigations into allegations of police misconduct. 

If future city leadership wanted to get rid of the review board, however, they would need voter approval to remove it from the charter. The amendment ensures there will be funding to staff the board, and allows some elements of the review board to be implemented without negotiation from the police union. 

“The charter amendment will allow Columbus voters to clearly demonstrate their desires for police reform,” Ginther said Monday, “and establish a framework per Civilian Review Board that has subpoena powers, the authority to conduct independent investigations, recommend disciplinary action, and that is fully staffed and funded.” 

The city's Community Safety Advisory Commission recommended the creation of a review board back in January,but City Council members and other city officials began publicly backing the idea following weeks of protests over police reform and racism.

A working group selected by the mayor is currently ironing out best practices for the board, including how its members might be chosen, before November’s election. 

Even if the charter passes, some key elements of the board still must be negotiated with the union, but Ginther hopes that having the voters' voices behind the push will send a clear message to the FOP. Ginther has taken a tougher tone recently with the union, which the mayor said is "not calling the shots anymore about how we police." 

The Fraternal Order of Police Capital Lodge 9 could not immediately be reached for comment.

“The Division of Police will work within the framework that the community provides," said Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan in a written statement.

Columbus City Council will hold a hearing on the charter on July 22 at 3 p.m. and then vote on it at their next meeting on July 27. If passed, it will appear on the November ballot for a vote by residents. 

Dorans says if community input is any indication, the amendment will likely pass. Ginther added that, given recent protests in Columbus about police brutality, he thinks the community is passionate about reform and anticipates November’s results will reflect that.