COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Use of force data from the Columbus Division of Police shows a disproportionately high amount of force used against Black people in Columbus.
According to public records, 52% of force by Columbus Police from 2017 to 2019 was used against Black people, despite the fact that Columbus’ population is roughly 29% Black.
Researchers with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights compiled the data as part of its Accountable Now project, which aims to track use of force from law enforcement agencies across the country.
Senior Program Manager Bree Spencer says Accountability Now currently has raw data from 155 law enforcement agencies. The Columbus Division of Police is one of 36 agencies with visualizations published on Accountability Now’s website.
“What stands out to me about Columbus is kind of — what doesn’t stand out to me about Columbus, which is like many other cities,” Spencer said. “You’re seeing really disproportionate use of force being experienced by Black residents in the city.”
Since 2019, the Columbus Division of Police have enacted multiple changes in an effort to increase transparency and accountability.
Andres Antequera, spokesperson for the department provided NBC4 with this list of recent reforms:
- Enacting Andre’s Law:
- It requires our personnel to activate their body-worn cameras during any enforcement action or other situation outline in our Division directives.
- It requires our personnel to request aid from emergency medical service upon a use of force that results in serious bodily harm, as well as rendering of medical aid under certain circumstances.
- It requires our personnel to obtain regular recertification in rendering aid.
- New leadership at the Department of Public Safety and Division of Police:
- Safety Director Robert Clark has 36 years’ law enforcement experience, including decades with the FBI.
- Chief Elaine Bryant is the city’s first African American female chief, and the first-ever chief from outside of the Division of Police. The City created the rank of Assistant Chief to allow the Chief to appoint some of her own executive staff, including from outside of the Division.
- Seated the first Civilian Police Review Board.
- Established the Office of the Inspector General to conduct independent administrative investigations into uses of force and allegations of police misconduct.
- Asked the U.S. Department of Justice for a formal review of racial bias in the city’s police force. The Department of Justice COPS office has been working with the Columbus Division of Police since late 2021. This is an ongoing partnership.
- Secured a historic collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police, which includes the following changes within the body-worn camera (BWC) policy:
- Automated Activation: Allows camera to be turned on without manual interaction.
- Pre-Event Recording: Allows for audio/video lookback of up to two minutes prior to camera activation
- Video Recall: Allows the Director of Public Safety to order the review of audio and video recordings up to 24 hours prior to a critical incident.
- Beginning in December 2021, the Division increased de-escalation training with recruits at the Columbus Police Academy.
- The city has invested nearly $19,000,000 to equip Columbus Police officers with the next generation of police body camera technology. Implementation of these cameras is currently underway. Technological advancements allow higher-quality audio and video, automatic activation to safeguard against user error, synchronization between body-worn and in-car cameras, and video recall abilities as far back as 24 hours prior to an incident. This significantly improves the Division’s ability to capture, identify, store, and share audio and video content. Among the advancements, these cameras:
- Reduce motion and blur.
- Utilize four microphones which balance themselves to capture clearer audio.
- Synchronize body-worn camera and in-car camera video feeds, allowing for automated activation, overlapping views and automatic video tagging.
- Captures audio and video content two minutes prior to activation.
- BWCs can recall video up to 18 hours following an incident; in-car cameras can recall video up to 24 hours following an incident.
- Body-worn cameras will automatically activate when:
- An officer’s weapon is removed from his or her utility belt (this will first be tested in a 100-camera pilot program before evaluating whether it could/should be implemented on a wider scale.
- A cruiser’s lights/sirens are activated.
- A rifle/shotgun rack is released.
- A cruiser accelerates to a high rate of speed.
- A cruiser is involved in a collision.
Spencer said the years-old data will prove helpful in evaluating those new policies.
“2017-2019 is actually really important for Columbus, given the changes that are happening now. You want to have that information available to members of the public so that when new data is published, they can go back and see is there actual change,” Spencer said.
Antequera said data is not yet available to track the effectiveness of the recent reforms.