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City Council To Vote On Civilian Review Board Powers and Responsibilities

Columbus City Hall
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Columbus City Council votes tonight on more rules for a new civilian review board for police. The latest language helps fill in the broad strokes Columbus voters approved by a wide margin last year.

The new civilian review board is tasked with police oversight in Columbus, and local leaders have already gotten much of the structure in place. The members have been chosen and the mayor has tapped the inaugural chairwoman, former city attorney Janet Jackson.

But as Council President Shannon Hardin explained at a townhall last week, the new legislation lays out how the board will operate.

“The ordinance we’re discussing tonight will codify the composition of the board and help spell out certain responsibilities and powers of the board and the inspector general,” Hardin said.

The provision codifies the board’s role in receiving, reviewing and reporting on allegations of police misconduct. It also establishes the inspector general’s role in conducting investigations at the direction of the board.

Beyond that, the legislation makes a series of tweaks to the initial draft language proposed by the mayor’s office. Training will expand beyond inclusion and implicit bias to include the topics “diversity” and “cultural competency.” Language defining the process for removing members gets flipped so those steps can start at the board rather than at the direction of local elected officials.

But the most noticeable shift is likely how frequently the board will decide on its chair. Lara Baker-Moorish from the city attorney’s office explained how the process will work.

“Following the completion of the first term of the appointed chairperson of the board, the board shall then annually elect from its membership a chairperson who shall preside over its meetings and a vice chairperson who will serve in the absence of the chair,” Baker-Moorish described. “And again, this is not uncommon for boards and commissions within the city of Columbus.”

That change — putting leadership in the hands of the board itself and potentially shortening the term — could reduce some of the mayor’s influence going forward. On the other hand, it could also help them avoid political fallout if there’s an unpopular decision.

The legislation is expected to pass at Council’s meeting Monday night. After that, Jackson wants to get right to work, aiming for an early-August start date.

“Even though the charter only calls for four meetings a year, board members get ready,” Jackson said. “Because we’re going to be meeting much more frequently than that to get ourselves prepared to do the heavy lifting of this work.”

The board will have to develop its training program, and then go through it, before it begins its review work in earnest. Meanwhile, all of these developments are happening as the city continues to negotiate a labor contract with the Fraternal Order of Police.

As it stands, the board can only recommend actions if it uncovers police misconduct. And under the current contract, officers have significant protections if they choose not to comply with investigations.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.