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Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs reflects on career in law enforcement

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – As she gets ready to leave office, Columbus Division of Police Chief Kim Jacobs says she does so with pride in the job she did and the team she led.

After 39 years behind the badge, Chief Jacobs is just weeks away from retirement.

She made history in Columbus, shattering the glass ceiling. She says her biggest points of pride are the men and women on the force and the community they serve.

“I am very very proud of the way we are now community minded. I wrote that into our vision statement when I became chief. We will be progressive, diverse, trustworthy and community minded. And i believe that we are all of those,” Jacobs told NBC4’s Colleen Marshall.

Jacobs says she will walk out of office with her head held high, proud that officers are no longer discouraged from interacting with the community.

"They would get chastised for being away from their duties. Now we encourage that. Stop in the rec center, stop in the pools, and go into places and interact," said Jacobs.

Jacobs knows a lot about being places where you may not be welcome. When she joined the force in 1979, she was one of about three dozen women with a badge.

"In the academy, already hired, one officer was assigned to work with me. And he said, ‘I don't think women should be police officers,’” said Jacobs. “I was like, well, they already hired me, so too late for that. And, I'll try to prove you wrong.  I became his chief."

She was the first female chief in division history, after being the first woman to serve as a commander and as a deputy chief. When she first joined, no woman had ever been made a sergeant.

Jacobs recently married the woman who has been her partner for 14 years. She was the first police chief to walk in the Pride Parade.

"It was interesting, because a lot of people weren't sure what to think of it, like, ‘Why is she here?’ and ‘What is she doing?’ But it became a very comfortable feeling like, I belong here," said Jacobs.

Pride and service were too often mixed with challenges and tragedy.

A low point was the line of duty shooting death of SWAT officer Steven Smith.

"It was extremely difficult. I mean, I consider it a failure on my part. You know that I wasn't able to protect him,” said Jacobs. “But, it’s a tough job and you can't be everywhere all the time. And you know he did what he loved to do, and he understood what the risks were. So, yeah it was tough."

It will be tough for whoever moves into her office.

Jacobs says there are brilliant stars within the division who could easily take the helm as chief.

"Would you like the person who replaces you to be from within the department or outside the department?” asked Colleen Marshall.

Not knowing who is going to apply, it is hard for me to say. But I certainly feel that we have a good thing going here. Everyone who works here as a sworn law enforcement officer has been through the Columbus Police Training Academy. And we consider our academy to be the best in the country," said Jacobs. "I think I have a bias toward someone who would come from here."


Chief Jacobs looks back with pride at the reception she received from women throughout the community and from those on the force.

"My goal is not just to be a role model for other women, but to be the first of many. not the first and only," said Jacobs.

When she joined the force in 1979, veteran officers were still skeptical about what women could do.  But she says, "I truly believe that women have brought to policing some of the things that our community members are asking for all the time: communication, de-escalation, and calming behaviors."  

Chief Jacobs says she believes Columbus has the nation's top training academy and one of its best police forces. But, she has also faced times of turmoil, including the public outcry that followed the shooting death of 23-year-old Henry Green, in an exchange of gunfire with two plainclothes police officers.

She says during the investigation of such events, police are forced into silence.

"We don't get to put our side out there," she says.  "But, whoever wants to from the community to the family to whoever else can say whatever they feel like saying.  A lot of misinformation was put out there and a lot of good information was not.  The fact that Henry Green did fire his weapon was kind of lost in the muddle."

Jacobs believes such isolated events do not represent the men and women who serve, who have mastered community policing and who willingly put their lives on the line every day. And, it is certainly not the legacy of the first woman to serve as top cop. 

"Seven years ago when Mayor Coleman said you are going to be the chief, I walked back along the Scioto Mile and said 'I am responsible got the safety of all 800-thousand plus people that live here', and it felt like an awesome responsibility," said Jacobs.

But, Jacobs says she believes for the last seven years "we've looked out for them, had a genuine concern for their safety and well-being." 



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