Activists Respond to End of Community Safety Initiative: “It’s A Small Win”November 20, 2017 9:00 am Lauren Sega
After a year of back-and-forth with local government, the People’s Justice Project (PFP) celebrated a small victory when Mayor Andrew Ginther announced the termination of the Community Safety Initiative and the reallocation of public safety funding in the 2018 Operating Budget for the City of Columbus. The initiative, which involved placing plainclothes officers in high crime neighborhoods, was long critiqued for affecting largely black and brown communities. Although its end signals what PJP sees as a necessary change in local public safety initiatives, the group’s members say there’s still a long way to go.
Ginther’s press conference revealed the three safety challenges facing Columbus presently, which include an unacceptable spike in homicides (113 this year, 70 percent of which were black men between the ages of 18 and 40), the rise of the opiate crisis, and the increasingly strained relationship between the community and law enforcement.
Although never directly naming racism or racial bias as central to the issues between communities and the officers that patrol them, Ginther laid out a multi-part plan to reform the Columbus Division of Police and create a department that’s more transparent, responsive and accountable.
“Many in the community do not feel comfortable talking to the police, either out of their fear of law enforcement or of retaliation from others in our community,” Ginther said. “The strained relations between police and some of our Columbus neighbors is not new, and it’s not unique to Columbus.”
Ginther’s Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy will receive $2 million for its new public safety techniques. These techniques are aimed at reducing crime and improving the ways law enforcement respond to it.
Safe Neighborhoods, a focused deterrence program, will receive $200,000 of funding to expand the job readiness program launched in partnership with the Franklin County Juvenile Court.
The city’s CARE Coalition (Community, Action, Resilience, Empowerment) will also expand. The trauma-informed coalition will gain one more program manager and four more case managers.
Safe Streets is another initiative that’ll expand. Currently a bike patrol program, it’ll employ foot patrols in 2018, as proposed by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the NAACP.
The budget will enable the CPD to recruit two more police classes, or 70 officers, to investigate the growing number of unsolved crimes. To achieve a more diverse police force, Ginther has charged Public Safety Director Ned Pettus Jr. with developing a strategic plan to double minority representation in police and fire in the next 10 years.
All new and existing recruits will receive training in deescalation, crisis intervention, use of force, and implicit bias. Police Chief Kim Jacobs will also submit a mental health training curriculum to the International Association of Chiefs of Police for review “to make sure we meet and exceed best practices.”
The bulk of public safety funding will go toward implementing physical and social deterrents to crime. This may mean anything from installing street lights to cracking down on nuisance codes, to stabilizing housing situations and funding after school programming.
Replacing the Community Safety Initiative will be groups called neighborhood safety committees. Led by a local Community Liaison Officer (CLO) and made up of block watch volunteers and community leaders, these committees will be able to review information, give realtime feedback and enhance the work already being done by other block watch groups organized by the city’s area commissions.
Finally, the City will create a new Violent Crime Review Group to address the homicide rate.
Stacey Little, an organizer with PJP, considers the end of the Community Safety Initiative a small win. And while she believes PJP’s constant pressure on the city’s administration was its cause of death, Little said the community’s voice is still missing from the rest of the city’s plan for public safety improvement.
“If you’re going to invest in something like this, you have to have people and organizations like PJP and organizations like SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) Columbus at the table to have these conversations,” Little said, “because we’re dealing with the directly affected people of these initiatives and programs.”
Little said the Violent Crime Review Group should be made up of citizens who live within these high crime communities — the mothers, church members and “people who have everyday access to everyday people.” She said the homicide rate is nothing new, and getting at the heart of it takes resolving long-standing conflicts between residents and between police and residents.
“Are we investing this money in things so people can resolve conflict, heal from trauma, be able to communicate with each other about unresolved issues?” She wonders. “Part of that plays into this whole homicide thing — you take the residents off the street who get in trouble, and then you turn them into snitches so they won’t get a record. And then you’re releasing them back on the streets with no protection, with no other safety net. So we all know what happens with that, especially in black and brown neighborhoods. People retaliate.”
PJP recommends creating a trauma recovery center that can double as a neighborhood hub. She imagines a place where people can come, work through issues, and build a real community.
“Our neighbors and our families and our brothers — they need healing,” Little says. “We haven’t had an opportunity to heal from generations of trauma. So, having to have that is very, very important. You have to have something that can heal people and solve unresolved conflict.”
As to what PJP’s plans are moving forward, that conversation is still ongoing. Little knows one thing, though.
“We gonna keep the pressure on,” she says. “When they announced it, we was like, ‘Oh, yea we’re cool, it’s a small win.’ But, we’re going to definitely keep the pressure on. What other choice do we have?”
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