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Klein Runs for Re-Election with Public Safety Plans and Accomplishments

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Klein Runs for Re-Election with Public Safety Plans and AccomplishmentsPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Zach Klein has served on Columbus City Council since 2011 and now presides over the Council’s public safety committee. He’s proud of the things he and the rest of the Council have been able to accomplish over the last four years; hiring 450 new police officers and firefighters, opening rec centers and pools in the wake of the recession, and keeping Columbus an overall safe city.

“We face no different crime in Columbus, being the 15th largest city in the United States, than any major city faces,” said Klein.

Klein is running for re-election as one of five candidates endorsed by the Franklin County Democratic Party and he knows there is much more that needs to be done to improve the city’s public safety apparatus. Many of the policies Klein wants to see instituted, perfected and expanded are ones birthed by the series of killings in the last year involving police officers and unarmed black men.

In response to these events, the City of Columbus instituted community forums between neighborhood members and Columbus Division of Police Chief Kim Jacobs. Klein said in his next term, he would want these conversations to continue.

“That can’t just be a one-off thing,” said Klein. “That needs to be an annual thing where [Chief Jacobs] goes out and hears firsthand. She is the head of our police department and if she doesn’t hear firsthand from residents, whether they’re African-Americans, LGBT, or new Americans, but firsthand what potential problems can be percolating in the communities then I think we’re missing the mark from a public safety perspective.”

“That’s the basis of trust,” continued Klein. “If you can’t communicate in an open and honest dialogue then there’s not gonna be trust there, and the trust is never gonna be repaired.”

Klein noted the Council’s $250,000 investment in new Tasers for CPD earlier this year, saying police officers must have a non-lethal option when facing escalating situations. Klein also said he is working with state Rep. Kevin Boyce to invest in body cameras for police officers, which Klein said can protect citizens and police officers equally but come with certain legal and monetary challenges.

“We need to change public record laws at the state level,” said Klein, in order to protect the identities of citizens involved in certain situations handled by the police, such as domestic violence or public lewdness. Klein also warned that though body cameras are necessary, the city must be prepared for the cost.

“We have to make an investment in the city, we need a budgetary investment for body cameras,” said Klein. “It’s an expensive proposition, not for the camera itself but for the data storage, and not a lot of people think about that.”

The server capacity required to keep all of the footage from all of the body cameras for as long as police departments are legally obligated to store them will be expensive, Klein added.

The primary reform Klein wants to see come CPD involves the recruitment of more minority officers. He said that part of what might need to change is the current testing structure used to pick suitable police recruits. The city needs to do more, said Klein, to get potential minority recruits from start to finish in the recruiting process.

“Whether it’s pubic safety or public service, we need to have a workforce in the city of Columbus that reflects the city’s population and we need to get very serious about changing the way that we’re doing things because the current model simply isn’t working,” said Klein. “I would rather take a risk in being more aggressive with minority recruitment… and know that we’re kind of pushing the envelope a little bit because even if we fall short we’re still gonna be better than the status quo which isn’t acceptable.”

Klein said reaching out to the faith community is a useful way of identifying more African-Americans for police recruitment, as well as searching in Columbus Public Schools as well as Columbus State Community College to find a young, diverse group of potential cops and get them interested in police work.

“That really is the key, they have to have some sort of basis of interest to realize that these are great careers, they pay well, they have great benefits and they’re rewarding in the sense of community service that you’re gonna be out in your own community making a difference, saving people’s lives, protecting people,” said Klein.

In the last several years, Ohio has started to recognize its human trafficking problem, with Toledo being one of the top hubs for trafficking in the country. Klein said he hopes in Columbus, increased knowledge of the crime will translate into smarter ways to fight it.

“One of the best things that’s happened to human trafficking is awareness,” said Klein. “I think that as a city council member and as a city we can use our platform to bring more awareness to this, this issue is real.”

Klein said the community must continue to invest in Franklin County’s CATCH Court, as well as programs that provide resources for victims and institute more serious penalties for traffickers.

“We need to have the focus on the true criminals in this case and those are the pimps, the johns and the traffickers. The women and men that are being trafficked, they’re the victims,” said Klein, adding, “I think it’s fair to have a societal conversation of whether traffickers…rise to the level of sex offenders, pedophiles and rapists and should be labeled as such.”

On the issue of sexual assault and rape on college campuses, Klein said the city and CPD maintain fruitful relationships with the various colleges and universities within Columbus that can result in better resources for prevention, enforcement and victim assistance.

“The coordination between CPD and Ohio State is strong, and I think a lot of that originated out of football… but has carried over into off-campus policing as well,” said Klein. “As with anything, as issues like the attention brought to sexual assault comes, the collaboration and increased dialog amongst our community members and our players can help bring awareness and attention and resources necessary to ensure that victims are given the resources that they need, they’re put in front of the right people to at the end hold folks accountable for bad actions.”

Klein said he tries to “keep my focus in my committee.” Still, he understands that, more often than not, criminal activity is tied with inequality in opportunity, and that crime is interconnected with all sorts of factors that may not be in the scope of his public safety committee.

“My mindset has always been one where the four pillars of opportunity are health, housing, safety and education. And my focus has been in those four cores,” said Klein. “How can we honestly and in good faith ask a kid who may not have a safe place to lay their head at night, who may wake up hungry… come to school and say ‘hey by the way, learn algebra.’? That’s not a sustainable model for the future of our city or the future of our country.”

Klein said he believes the role of government, and particularly the role of city government, is to try and give everyone a fair opportunity to start a business, get and education, marry whomever they want, buy a home or raise a family.

“We believe in our capitalist society if everyone has a fair shake,” said Klein, “but so long as everyone doesn’t have a fair shake, no one can seize the opportunity that they really want to participate in.”

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