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Ohio Church Leaders and Police Reform Advocates Call for DOJ Investigation of Columbus Police


Ohio religious leaders and police reform advocates are calling on the federal government to launch a “model or practice” investigation of the Columbus Police Division, rather than considering it as the the Justice Department announced last week.

“As people of faith, we demand more than a review. We need a calculation that turns law enforcement into a public safety service that cares for, serves and protects all of its citizens,” said said the religious leaders in a petition to the Ministry of Justice and signed by 107 people. Faith in Life, an advocacy group supporting the demand, said the petition was handed over to the Justice Department’s civil rights division on Thursday.

The petition calls on the Justice Department to investigate the police service’s hiring process and discipline, as well as union contracts and allegations of racial injustice and police assault.

“It is clear to me that there are patterns of systemic racism within the department, which lead to excessive force practices, biased policing and unconstitutional Columbus Police practices,” l ‘one of the petitioners, Reverend Tim Ahrens, senior minister of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Columbus, said Thursday at a virtual press conference.

The appeal comes a week after the Justice Department accepted a request from Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther to review the practices of the police division. It also follows an announcement by the Justice Department this week that it is setting new rules for the functioning of court-appointed federal controllers who oversee its police reform efforts.

A message of support, in chalk, at a vigil in memory of MaKhia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio on April 21, 2021.Jeff Dean / AFP via Getty Images File

Ginther invited the Justice Department to review the police department in April, days after an officer shot dead Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, while answering a call to 911. Officers also did recently come under scrutiny for excessive use of force against protesters and for the high-profile murders of black men in the city, including Andre Hill in December.

“This is not about any particular officer, policy or incident; rather it is about reforming the entire policing institution in Columbus,” Ginther said last week after. that the Department of Justice accepted the request.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Policing Services, or COPS, works in partnership with the Columbus Police Department to review policies and provide advice on leadership training, diversity recruiting, and technology.

But that plan falls far short of what the police department needs, some critics say.

“It’s disappointing and it’s a misstep,” said Sean Walton, a member of the Columbus Police Accountability Project, which formed in April to shed light on policing and social injustice.

Walton said on Thursday that the COPS unit is better suited to advise small towns and law enforcement agencies that need technical assistance and best practice help, but lack the resources to obtain it.

That’s not what Columbus needs, he said. Instead, he needs the federal government to launch an investigation into the ministry’s culture and its relationship with the community that could ultimately lead to the establishment of an independent observer for a period of time and an executive order of consent imposed by the court which dictates the planned reforms.

“It’s as simple as this: we have to allow the DOJ to come in and investigate,” Walton said. we will have the help we need to move forward. This is not a request outside the box. It’s something that happens in cities that have decided to put people above the police.

The Justice Department and Ginther say the review does not rule out future investigation.

In a statement, the Justice Department said it regularly consults with PSC staff and other departments to determine whether an investigation into patterns or practices or other enforcement action is necessary.

“The division also examines the context for local reform efforts and whether federal enforcement action is needed to ensure effective reform occurs,” the agency said.

In the April letter inviting the Justice Department’s review, Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein acknowledged that it was possible for the parties to “exhaust all available remedies as partners” during the process of review and that more stringent measures may be needed to reform police practices.

“We have invited the US Department of Justice to review our reform efforts and assess the operations of the CPD, including investigating models or practices if it deems necessary,” the mayor said in a statement Thursday. communicated. “We welcome the DOJ’s engagement and will work with the DOJ in whatever capacity they choose, but our first focus will be on getting results and making real change and reform. “

In 1999, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the city of Columbus after an investigation revealed excessive use of force and other offenses by Columbus officers, according to a case analysis by the University of Michigan Law School. The lawsuit was later dismissed after the city promised changes such as the Office of Internal Affairs’ implementation of new training and community outreach programs, according to the analysis.

The Department of Justice recently opened investigations into the models or practices of the Minneapolis police services; Louisville, Kentucky; and Phoenix.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Monday that the Justice Department is reviewing its own practice of sending court-approved federal monitors to clean up and reform police services in cities across the country. There will be new limits on how much cities will have to spend on watchdogs overseeing reform efforts and limits on a five-year monitor’s tenure unless a court approves more time. , the agency said.

Critics have argued that federal oversight can last for years – in some cases over a decade – with local taxpayers footing the bill.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, doesn’t believe federal oversight works because it’s too difficult to get the city, police leaders, the base and the community to work together.

“You can’t show me the city where there was a problem between the police and the community and where a consent decree was imposed, where the relationship is better today than it was before the consent decree is imposed. They tend not to work, ”he said.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington DC-based think tank, said the new oversight guidelines should add credibility to federal oversight, but its success will largely depend on the city.

“I don’t think you can tell one way or the other if this is working. In some places it has had very good results and major changes and improvements. On the other hand, sometimes it just stretches. And that can be very difficult, ”he said.

Results have been mixed in cities that have come under federal scrutiny.

In Baltimore, Dana P. Moore pointed to the peaceful protests in the city after the death of George Floyd as proof that the city’s four-year consent decree is working. The Baltimore Police Department entered into a consent decree in 2017 after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died in police custody two years earlier.

“Baltimore has not had oversized and unruly protests and demonstrations. The focus has been on protecting the First Amendment rights of protesters, ”said Moore, director of the Office of Equity and Civil Rights, which oversees the Baltimore City Civilian Review Board.

In Seattle, however, officials last summer withdrew a motion to end part of its police department’s consent decree dating back 11 years after complaints about clashes between officers and protesters.

“We have been lauded by President Barack Obama for being a role model for what a police service should look like and how a police service should reform, and yet, one way or another, in a matter of years. barely, we are now the bad kids again, ”Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. said Randy Huserik. “I’m not sure how it happened.”

Walton, a civil rights lawyer, said he recognizes consent orders aren’t perfect, but said they always add value and serve a purpose.

“It’s something that ensures a level of accountability for the police. For Columbus, there is no other option, ”he said.