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Progressive Group Looks To Shed Light On Columbus Police Union Contract

Protesters on the sidewalk of the Ohio Statehouse face Columbus Police officers, who stood in the middle of High Street, on June 1, 2020.
Paige Pfleger
Protesters on the sidewalk of the Ohio Statehouse face Columbus Police officers, who stood in the middle of High Street, on June 1, 2020.

The deaths of Andre Hill and Casey Goodson Jr. have renewed calls for police reform in Ohio. But changes to the Columbus Division of Police often face a big hurdle – the city's contract with the police union. Columbus is currently renegotiating the contract, which expired at the end of last year.

On Tuesday night, the local chapter of a progressive organization called New Leaders Council is hosting a livestream discussion meant to demystify Columbus's collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police. A City Council member, a local lawyer, and a state representative are all taking part.

But there's one notable absence: the union itself.

"The minute we saw that, I immediately contacted Council member Dorans. I said, 'Someone from the FOP should be invited.' I was waiting for an invite and we didn’t get one," says Brian Steel, vice president of FOP Capital City Lodge #9.

Dorans says the event is not a public forum, but rather an educational session about the 174-page document.

“The contract binds both the city and the union to a mutual set of promises… everything from pay and staffing, but also working conditions," Dorans says. "And I think what’s fundamentally at issue right now is how discipline is being measured out to officers that have engaged in potential misconduct."

In addition to Dorans, the discussion will include state Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus), attorney Sean Walton (who represents Goodson's family), and Franklin University assistant dean Chenelle Jones. The panel begins at 5:30 p.m.

Activists calling for police reform have multiple sticking points in the current contract. One is the high bar it takes for the city to suspend officers. Another is arbitration, which allows the union to appeal and possibly force the rehiring of officers who were fired. WOSU found in 2017 that arbitration pushed the city to rehire three of the 14 officers it had fired in the preceding decade.

Columbus is also currently accepting applications for members of the new Civilian Review Board, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November to investigate alleged police misconduct. Many details of that board's powers, including its ability to subpoena officers  and recommend discipline, are also constricted by the police contract.

The FOP contract expired in December, but police are still working under the terms of that expired contract while negotiations continue. Dorans is quick to point out that City Council does not have a seat at that table, per state law.

“But I do think myself and others on council have some pretty clear expectations of seeing a contract that speaks more towards ensuring the right people are policing our neighborhood and when folks do engage in misconduct they’re held responsible,” Dorans says.

Steel would not comment on the specifics of the negotiations, saying only that they were ongoing.

Tuesday's discussion comes the same day as the memorial servicefor Hill, who was fatally shot by Columbus Police Officer Adam Coy on December 22. Coy, who is currently under state and federal investigation, was fired last week by the city's Public Safety Director for unreasonable use of force, failing to activate his body camera and neglecting to provide first aid.

The FOP has not indicated if it will appeal Coy's termination.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.