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Local Police Accountability Group Calls DOJ Review Of Columbus Police A 'Misstep'

Columbus Division of Police Central Headquarters.
David Holm
Mayor Andrew Ginther announces the 614 For Linden plan on Nov. 25, 2019.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice accepted Mayor Andrew Ginther's invitation to conduct a review of the Columbus Division of Police. But one local activist group doesn't think it's the right move.

The review comes after Columbus officials called on the DOJ to look into racial bias in the police after 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant was shot and killed by an officer in April.

Sean Walton is a local civil rights attorney and co-founder of the Columbus Police Accountability Project, a Black-led collective of various community leaders that fight for federal oversight of CPD. Walton said a DOJ review will merely advise the police on best practices, and an investigation is what's needed for proper reform.

"It's still not that DOJ investigation that needs to take place, that we're going to have more of the same. And 20 years from now, we'll still be here, so it's a misstep," he said. "It's a misstep, it's a missed opportunity, and it does hinder progress because it essentially puts lipstick on a pig."

Walton said a DOJ investigation would look into the policies of a division and have potential to uncover constitutional violations.

He added if an official investigation is launched and if the department finds something, the DOJ can file a lawsuit. Then, the department and the city will enter into a consent decree, which then the DOJ can get a court order that could force the police to make certain changes.

"Most cities don't request DOJ intervention because it'll likely lead to an uncovering of issues, and that's why they didn't ask for an investigation, they asked for a review," Walton said.

At a press conference Thursday where the city announced the DOJ accepted its invitation for a review, Ginther said that bringing the department in would improve the community.

"There's a reason we invited them in," Ginther said. "We think they can help us become better and make us into that 21st century community policing organization that the chief and I envision."

And although the Mayor's invitation came after Bryant's death, Ginther said the review is about broader reform.

"This is not about one particular officer, policy or incident. Rather, this is about reforming the entire institution of policing in Columbus," Ginther said.

Walton said he believes some other changes the city has made when it comes to police reform have been a step in the right direction, like the Civilian Review Board, but they aren't transformative steps.

"A DOJ investigation would be a transformative step because it's going to right the wrongs of the past, and ensure accountability through court oversight," Walton said. "We're making incremental progress, but lives are at stake so it's not enough."

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.