COLUMBUS (WCMH) — An NBC4 Investigates analysis of public records reveals that more than three quarters of Columbus police officers live outside Columbus city limits, and advocates and criminal justice experts say this can be harmful to public safety, particularly for Black residents.
NBC4 Investigates requested the ZIP Codes of every police officer from Ohio’s largest police departments and cross-referenced them with the U.S. Postal Service’s ZIP Code database.
The result was that just 23% of Columbus police officers – 448 of 1,942 – live within a Columbus ZIP Code.
In Cleveland, Ohio’s second-largest city roughly 71% of police officers live in the city. And in Cincinnati and Dayton, it’s 63% and 54%, respectively.
That 23% figure in Columbus might also be higher than the actual number, as multiple Columbus ZIP Codes overlap with other municipalities. ZIP Code data was used because Ohio public records laws limit the personal information available regarding public servants.
The top six ZIP Codes where Columbus officers live are outside the city, heavily concentrated in suburbs as well as cities in neighboring counties.
The No. 1 ZIP is 43123, where 124 officers live in Grove City, Darbydale or Urbancrest. The top ZIP in Columbus, seventh-ranked 43230, is home to less than half that number, 58 officers. And Columbus even shares 43230 with Gahanna.
Experts troubled by findings
Advocates like Columbus NAACP president Nana Watson would like to see more police officers live in the communities they patrol in order to better reflect the people they serve.
“It’s not being able to understand differences in people, the color of their skin, the way they talk, the way they look — you have to be engaged,” Watson said.
Roughly 10% of Columbus police officers are Black, according to the most recent data available. Twenty-nine percent of the city’s residents are Black.
NBC4 Investigates’ analysis also found that zero police officers live in Columbus’ South Linden neighborhood, which according to U.S. Census data, is 71% Black.
The data does not surprise lifelong South Linden resident Kujenga Ashe.
“We look at police basically like an occupational army. They’re coming into a third world country. They’re coming in here to occupy us,” Ashe said.
“We know that officers – when they don’t eat, sleep and breathe in the City of Columbus – however, they come in to do enforcement activities, that creates a level of contention between the officers and the public,” said Dr. Chenelle Jones, who researches police-community relations as Assistant Dean of Community Engagement at Franklin University.
“It really does perpetuate a lot of the issues that we have and that we’ve been seeing within the City of Columbus,” she said.
Jones is also a member of the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission, which last year submitted a list of 80 recommendations to the city to improve public safety. Recommendation No. 75 was to implement an incentive program for officers to live in the neighborhoods they patrol.
“Not only could crime go down, but you’re more inclined to have somebody if they know about a crime that’s happening – they may call and report it because they feel more connected to their officer,” Jones said.
According to a dashboard tracking the progress of the commission’s recommendations, the residency incentive program has been approved, but it “Requires Funding/Bargaining.”
The road ahead
Columbus interim police Chief Mike Woods declined a request for an interview. He said through a spokesman that he is not looking to make any big changes like a residency incentive program as interim chief.
Keith Ferrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter that represents Columbus officers, did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him.
While it does not appear that Columbus will implement a residency incentive program soon, Khadijah Lanai Ashe, Kujenga’s wife, who serves on the South Linden Area Commission, is asking for other changes that she hopes will improve relationships in the community.
“Money. No one wants to put money down into this community,” Khadijah said.
As his wife works with city officials and outside organizations to bring more opportunities and resources into South Linden, Kujenga hopes to appeal to the federal government for funding.
“You don’t have to give people cash money, but you can give people educational things. You can give people housing things. You can do community policing things. You can do all kinds of things that can help end systemic racism,” Kujenga said.
In the meantime, Khadijah said a Columbus police recruiter has been visiting schools in South Linden more often.
“There are people who know Linden, and they want to see Linden flourish,” she said.