Community Leaders Call for Accountability in Process to Reform Police Department
Between the selection of Tom Quinlan as the new chief of the Columbus Division of Police and the recent report released by the Community Safety Advisory Commission, it’s safe to say some changes may soon be underway for the department. As the public awaits next steps, community leaders are pushing for early and often measures of accountability.
Over the last several years, a number of instances have marred the reputation of the division: the indictment of former vice officer Andrew Mitchell on federal charges; the controversial shooting deaths of Tyre King, 13, and Henry Green, 23; the police killing of Julius Tate Jr. and subsequent arrest of his girlfriend Masonique Saunders, who was then charged with his murder using Ohio’s felony murder statute; the 14 Division employees who submitted anonymous letters complaining of racism, sexism and discrimination within the department; and the 2019 study revealing a disparate use of force perpetrated against minorities in Columbus.
The convening of the Columbus Safety Advisory Commission and the search for a new police chief were meant to spur widespread changes in both the policies of the Division and the community’s perception of the Division. But members of the community have said that although those processes have come to a close, there is much work to be done in achieving those goals.
Tammy Fournier-Alsaada, a former Community Safety Advisory Commissioner and leader of criminal justice reform organization People’s Justice Project (PJP), says primarily, it’ll take the Fraternal Order of Police and Chief Quinlan getting fully on board with the commission’s recommendations – not just Mayor Andrew Ginther’s approval – for there to be real change in the Division. It’s a task, she says, that’s likely easier said than done.
“Strategy-wise, the next step is how to hold Quinlan accountable for what we know is happening in our city: a rogue police force,” Alsaada said. “The people in the community want real change, and people that have been following this process recognize we face a block of unchecked power in the Division and their union.”
Alsaada said the selection of Quinlan as police chief was a disappointment to many members in the community, as well as the organizations she works with in her role with PJP. They felt Quinlan’s challenger, former Seattle Assistant Police Chief Perry Tarrant, was the better choice, for his experience in police reform and his role in a law enforcement task force created by former president Barack Obama. While Quinlan has the experience, Alsaada says he also benefitted from a Division environment that allowed him to rise through the ranks as other, minority officers experienced racism and discrimination. And in his 30 year tenure, Alsaada says he had the opportunity to facilitate changes within the department, but failed to do so.
During a recent interview with Mayor Andrew Ginther, he expressed optimism in getting all parties at the table to make the changes that are necessary, though he admitted that he and Quinlan would likely not see eye to eye on every recommendation.
Ginther says Quinlan has already made great strides in improving the processes and procedures in the department, such as improving officer oversight and placing neighborhood coordination officers (NCO), modeled after the New York Police Department, in specific communities to address their unique issues, such as panhandling, nuisance carry-outs, after hours clubs, etc.
Following the end of the Vice unit, Quinlan also created Police and Community Together (PACT) to address cases formerly handled by Vice.
When asked if he thought that the loyalties Quinlan had fostered throughout his time with the Division would interfere with his ability to implement some of the commission’s recommendations – such as drug and alcohol testing after a police-involved incident, or launching a whistle-blower hotline – Ginther said Quinlan’s longer-term relationships would be valuable, “but they don’t govern, direct, or blind him to the challenges within the Division.”
Ultimately, Alsaada and other members of the community – including Henry Green’s mother Adrienne Hood, who has led police reform initiatives since her son was fatally shot by police in 2016 – want to see accountability in the months and years ahead.
“I think one of the things I’d like to see happen if they are really legitimate and genuine about wanting to see change, is that there should be people from the community at the bargaining table the next go-around with the FOP contract,” said Hood.
Ginther says he hopes to keep the conversation going, possibly by making permanent a similar group to the Columbus Safety Advisory Commission. He sees them functioning much like CelebrateOne’s task force on infant mortality, or the Addiction Action Plan, keeping tabs on progress and updating the public annually with a report.
“For me and others, we won’t go away on it,” added Alsaada. “This is a life and death issue we’re talking about. The killing of our children, brothers, and sisters every day. Our interactions with police may result in someone dying. We’re not just going to accept another report.”