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Columbus City Council Approves New Police Contract

Mayor Andrew Ginther speaking about the new contract with the Fraternal Order of Police.
Scott Good
Mayor Andrew Ginther speaking about the new contract with the Fraternal Order of Police.

Updated Tuesday, July 27, 6:50 a.m.

Columbus City Council has signed off on the a new three-year contract for police. After more than a year of wrestling with reform, the agreement will largely define what’s possible going forward.

The contract likely falls short of what many reformers sought, but city officials insist the deal marks significant progress. Although the civilian review board won’t have the subpoena powers Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and others initially called for, he said the board will have all it needs to maintain oversight.

“They will have all the power that a subpoena would have, this inspector general, to compel documents, information from the division, from officers and compel them to testify,” Ginther describes. “So it is the equivalent of subpoena power without the word subpoena being in the collective bargaining agreement.”

Ginther joined police Columbus Chief Elaine Bryant and civilian review board chair Janet Jackson at the Columbus Urban League to introduce the deal alongside faith leaders and league CEO Stephanie Hightower.

The deal also offers a 14% increase in pay and benefits over the next three years, and $200,000 buyouts for up to 100 officers with at least 25 years of experience.

Ginther and Bryant said those buyouts will help spur the careers of younger officers who have bought in to reform the division.

“There are some that clearly are resistant to change and reform, they’ve made themselves known and have been very clear and that’s fine,” Ginther said. “And this is an opportunity maybe for them to go police someplace else.”

But Bryant warns the move means the division will need additional support. Already the department has faced officers retiring faster than they can be replaced.

“This means we will need to hire more officers, additional classes, larger classes, to able to replace the officers we’ve lost as quickly as possible,” Bryant said.

The mayor contends the early separations, while expensive on the front end, will actually save the city millions over the long term. He argues those savings could potentially help bolster recruiting and fund alternative response efforts.

But the question of recruiting and staffing could be an ongoing point of friction. Earlier this year, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin tried to put the brakes on hiring while a study of diversity in recruiting went forward. That standoff eventually ended with the police getting their full complement of recruit classes.

In a statement ahead of city council’s meeting, Hardin voiced his tempered support for the agreement.

“The contract [the union] negotiated with the Administration allows for the full implementation of the Civilian Police Review Board, requires officers to take drug tests after shootings or deadly uses of force, and includes many improvements for accountability. This contract isn’t perfect, but it is an improvement from the status quo,” Hardin said.

Elder Larry Price of Triedstone Baptist Church recounted how he and other Black residents have marched since the 1980s for civilian oversight of the police. He voiced support, but encouraged the city and the Fraternal Order of Police to continue working together on reform. Pastor Brian Williams from Hope City House of Prayer struck a similar tone.

“There are some who may not fully embrace this contract and say that it falls short, but it is, and I echo again the sentiments of our mayor and everyone who’s spoken today, a step in the right direction,” Williams said.

Jackson, who chairs the civilian review board, also framed the agreement as part of an ongoing progression in police reform, but she characterizes the deal in more optimistic terms.

“It honors the values that define our city, and speeds up the irreversible pivot towards a 21st century community policing model,” Jackson said. “Put simply, it is an important leap forward.”

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.