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Columbus Hopes To Seat Newly-Approved Civilian Review Board By End Of Year

Columbus Police confront protesters at a demonstration downtown on June 2, 2020.
Paige Pfleger
Columbus Police confront protesters at a demonstration downtown on June 2, 2020.

Columbus residents voted overwhelmingly last week to add more oversight of police. Issue 2, which passed with about 74% of the vote, creates a new Civilian Review Board and an inspector general for the Columbus Division of Police. 

But the city must undergo a few more steps before the board is seated and running.

Under the charter amendment, the Civilian Review Board would be able to launch and carry out investigations of alleged police misconduct, while the Inspector General role would more broadly examine policies and patterns in the department as a whole.

Mayor Andrew Ginther named 16 people to a working group in July.

“The Civilian Review Board work group has been working diligently for weeks, looking, as you know, at best practices around the country and helping to develop some recommendations for what they believe will work best here in Columbus,” Ginther says.

The group's next meeting is November 10, after wh ich Ginther expects final recommendations on what sort of powers the board should have.

“Subpoena powers, the authority to conduct independent investigations, recommend disciplinary action,” Ginther lists off.

Other considerations before the working group are how big the review board should be, who should be on it, and how members will be appointed.

Community activist Tammy Fournier Alsaada, a member of the city's Safety Advisory Commission, has been working with the city on this issue, but isn’t on the working group itself. She says it’s crucial that people follow the process diligently to ensure fairness and representation.

“There’s still so much work to be done," Alsaada says. "So yes, Issue 2 did pass, but now we need to be looking at what, who will the Civilian Review Board be made up of?"

Union Negotiations

Even when the working group decides what the board will do, a lot of the its powers will have to be negotiated with the local Fraternal Order of Police. The police union's contract with the city runs out at the end of the year.

Ginther says he’ll fight for the board to have subpoena powers and the ability to conduct investigations independently.

“We will engage in good-faith negotiations with them to incorporate what the public has clearly said it wants,” Ginther says. “Regardless of how you feel about both of these issues, the public has spoken loudly and clearly about what they expect.”

The other issue Ginther is referring to is Issue 1, which also passed last Tuesday. That measure allows the city to set up community choice aggregation – a way to choose green energy sources for businesses and individuals that haven't yet picked a provider.

Ginther predicts the biggest sticking point in negotiations will be the ability for the board to recommend disciplinary measures in cases of police misconduct.

“Specifically around discipline,” Ginther says, "cases would be brought to the attention of the Civilian Review Board, there would be an inspector general, who would be someone with an investigation background and experience.”

WOSU reached out to the Fraternal Order of Police with repeated requests for comment, but the union did not respond. In the past, FOP president Keith Ferrell has said he’s open to dialogue with the city, but heavily criticized the city for taking the issue to voters.

In 2017, the FOP unanimously approved a vote of "no confidence"in Ginther, Public Safety Director Ned Pettus, and then-City Council president Zach Klein – a reaction to the firing of officer Zachary Rosen, who was found to have violated protocol when he kicked a restrained suspect in the head. Rosen was later rehired after arbitration from the FOP, and remains in the department.

Tensions have been particularly high this year between the Mayor's Office and the FOP, when city leaders and activists criticized the Division of Police for officers' aggressive responsesto racial justice protests.

The working group will pass its final structure recommendations onto city leaders tomorrow, and it hopes to seat a board 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.