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Key Takeaways from City Council’s Reimagining Safety Resident Engagement Report

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman Key Takeaways from City Council’s Reimagining Safety Resident Engagement ReportPhoto via Wikimedia Commons
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Columbus City Council shared its final report highlighting the results of its public safety engagement efforts over the last few months.

More than 4,000 residents responded to an online survey, multiple focus groups, and town hall discussions facilitated by the Saunders PR Group this winter to gauge the thoughts and opinions of residents regarding public safety.

Those efforts informed Council’s 2021 operating budget priorities, which passed earlier this month and include $10 million toward Reimagining Public Safety, which will be invested in alternative crisis response efforts, neighborhood-based violence intervention strategies, programs for youth, equipment and emergency medical training for officers and more.

The report, released last week, summarizes the feedback received during the public engagement effort and confirms some agreement on how the city could approach and improve public safety.

Respondents of the online survey were largely in favor of trained crisis teams to address mental health crises, homelessness issues, non-weapon-related suicide threats and attempts, and generally non-violent behavior without law enforcement officers.

However, a smaller but still substantial percentage of respondents were in favor of police officers paired with trained crisis team responders for human and sex trafficking, missing persons, child neglect and abuse calls.

Respondents still ranked calling 911 rather highly in ways they would attempt to help someone they witnessed having a mental health crisis.

62% of respondents said they would communicate with someone close to the person in crisis, such as a family member or friend; 52% said they would try communicating with the person in crisis; 43% said they would call 911; and 39% said they would call a Netcare emergency hotline. The remaining respondents said they would either call a suicide hotline, call non-emergency police, or do nothing.

Social services supports, mental health services, addiction treatment, and community-based programming were among respondents’ top choices for having the greatest impact in improving public safety.

When it came to exploring different aspects and impacts of public safety, 81% of respondents said addressing and investing in the root causes of violence was their top choice to be considered. This was immediately followed by investing more in housing and economic stability as well as public health (77%); replacing some police responses with trained crisis responders (74%); having trained crisis responders to accompany police (72%); and decriminalizing certain non-violent acts (68%).

Saunders PR Group held virtual focus groups with individuals from local organizations, including the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the New Leaders Council, Kaleidoscope Youth Center, Community Refugee and Immigration Services, the Urban Aging Residents Coalition, who provided significant feedback on the survey and public safety in general.

Respondents Said the Survey Felt “Police-Heavy”
Feedback from the New Leaders Council in particular pointed out that the survey largely revolved around thoughts and opinions regarding the police. Respondents wanted the survey to provide more information on alternatives to public safety such as social services, and others wanted the inclusion of code officers and landlords as a part of the public safety conversation. Respondents from Kaleidoscope Youth Center, in particular, pointed out abolishing the police was not listed as an alternative to improving public safety.

Calls for Awareness Efforts
Respondents called for information campaigns to make residents aware of who to call for various incidents, outside of just the police. They also mentioned a lack of awareness regarding social norms and what does and doesn’t require calling the police to deal with a situation, as well as unchecked racism in unofficial block watches on social media and misinformation and rejection of affordable housing efforts.

Some Demographics Were Underrepresented
Though Saunders PR Group made an attempt to reach out to Columbus residents of all races, ages, sides of town, and hard-to-count populations, including the homeless population, according to the report, some demographics were underrepresented. Just under 60% of respondents identified as women, while 31.46% identified as men, 0.65% identified as non-binary, 25 respondents identified as transgender, and 5.83% preferred not to say.

Just under 75% of respondents were White/Caucasian, 12.61% were Black, 4.33% were Biracial/Multiracial, and the remaining 8.24% of respondents were Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latinx, Indigenous/Native American, or a race not listed. In addition, respondents 19 and younger made up the smallest percentage of respondents, so small the demographic did not have a percentage listed. The underrepresented demographics represent communities particularly distrustful of the police and vulnerable to police brutality: young Black residents, and members of the LGBTQ community.

View the report at columbus.gov/reimaginesafety.

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