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Columbus Expands Safe Streets, Launches New Initiatives Amid Homicide Surge

Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins
Associated Press
Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther.

Four people died in Columbus this weekend in homicides, bringing the city's total number of homicide deaths to 39. In response, the city of Columbus is rolling out several new public safety initiatives and expanding the scope of several existing ones.

Columbus hit a historic high in 2017 when 143 people died of homicides. That dropped over the next two years, as the homicide rate fell by 28% in 2018 and again by 33% in 2019.

But last year, Columbus reached a new record: 175 homicides.

Columbus Division of Police commander Smith Weir says there’s been an “explosion in terms of gun shots throughout the city” so far in 2021. The city has Shottspotter technology – which uses microphone-like sensors to detect gunfire – installed in the Hilltop, Linden and on the South Side.

“Through Shotspotter, we know that in the three regions we have throughout the city that detect gunshots, October 1-March 8, 4,183 incidents of gunfire in the city, in those regions, 15,852 rounds,” Weir says.

Weird compared those numbers to the same time period the year before, from late 2019 to early 2020, when the statistics were half as high: 2,138 gunshots and 7,619 rounds.

“While the Columbus Neighborhood Safety Strategy worked, the spike in homicides and other violent crimes that happened for different reasons in 2017, the violence we’re seeing is different,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther at a press conference Tuesday. “It’s primarily related to the global pandemic and the economic crisis it’s brought around the world and to cities around the country. COVID-19 thrust many residents into crisis with housing, food insecurity, lack of consistent in-person education.”

New Measures

Several of the measures announced Tuesday focus on life coaching, mentorship and employment opportunities for young people.

“At the recommendation of the men of Linden, who I met with on a couple different occasions, we’re investing in Growing UP: an initiative that provides comprehensive education, development and employment that’s focused on young men from the Linden community who need stable jobs so they can raise a family and contribute to the community,” Ginther says.

Growing UP will be run by the New Salem Community Development Corporation, and asks older men to volunteer to lead opportunities for younger men. Ginther expects to reach 30 young men through the pilot launch and expand the program for the next few years.

The city will invest $80,000 in this effort, and may scale up funding depending on the program’s success.

Columbus also announced a partnership with End the Violence, a program run by two former gang members that aims to assist youth and young adults in maneuvering their lives away from crime. Ginther predicts that the effort will serve about 80 people. The city will invest $500,000 in this effort.

Funding for both programs will come from the Basic City Services Fund and President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Ginther said he also asked leaders in a Central Ohio Mayors and Managers Association meeting Friday to work with him and county judges to find diversion programs for young people caught up in gun violence. He says six people at the meeting agreed to work with him, although he did not mention them by name.

Old Measures Expanding

In the meantime, Columbus will expand several already-existing public safety programs it deems positively impactful: ReRoute, Safe Neighborhoods and Safe Streets.

ReRoute, which is run by the CARE Coalition, involves micro-interventions for at-risk young people. The program provides grief counseling and resources to address housing inequalities and food insecurity.

Ginther says ReRoute has impacted 46 people so far, and he will double the number of interventionalists and social workers to expand the effort citywide.

Safe Neighborhoods focuses on violent offenders who are on probation and deemed risks to re-offend. The collaboration involves the city’s public safety department and Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, giving participants direction for navigating social services.

Right now, Safe Neighborhoods works with individuals, but the city is working on expanding the program into a group model housed at three churches in different neighborhoods. The churches have not been named yet.

Lastly, the city will expand Safe Streets, a bike patrol program through Columbus Police. That effort will expand to include first shift in addition to second shift, and will run from spring to fall instead of just the summer. Ginther plans to get the program started again this April.

Funding for the expansions is not set in stone yet, says city spokeswoman Robin Davis. Some of the expansions will involve hiring people, and those budgets have not been finalized.

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.