COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Columbus’ new chief of police understands there’s work to be done to bridge a growing gap between officers and the community they’re sworn to protect, and many of Chief Elaine Bryant’s plans revolve around restoring that trust through positive interactions.
“We want to humanize that badge,” she said Tuesday during her first sit-down interview since being named Columbus Chief of Police. “A lot of people don’t know that we’re mothers, we’re brothers, we’re sisters, we’re uncles, we’re cousins.”
“Humanizing” police officers will play a central role in the chief’s plans to recruit new officers, which include a “day-in-the-life” program to shadow officers on the job and outreach at local colleges and universities.
“We want to diversify and be inclusive, but we want to create equity,” Bryant said.
As for Bryant, she was not recruited to be an officer when she began her law enforcement career in Detroit in 2000.
“I joined the police department on a bet,” she said. “My then-husband at the time was a five-year veteran of the Detroit Police Department, and we were having a conversation and he made some sort of statement in regards to, ‘Not everyone can do this.’ And I was like, ‘I bet I can.’”
Bryant said you can bet to see her a lot around Columbus.
“I’ve been in the community from day one,” she said. “Every chance that I get, I go out. I talk to the community members. I try to attend different events.”
So far, the chief said she’s learned from those conversations.
“I get a lot of positive feedback, and of course I get some criticism,” Bryant said. “Some criticism that I’ve heard is, ‘The police don’t necessarily talk to us proper.’ That’s an issue. That’s a concern. If you feel that you’re being disrespected or you feel that they’re not talking to you proper, those are the things that we want to know.”
“On the positive end, I hear the officers are great,” Bryant added. “‘This officer helped me change my tire.’ ‘This officer helped buy my baby a car seat.’”
Bryant said another issue brought to her attention is a lack of police presence in certain communities. She’s working to change that, beginning with her Parks Detail initiative, which places more bicycle patrol officers in the city’s parks and additional command staff on the streets.
“If we can get out there and be proactive, and be with the bikes and on patrol in the parks, then (people) see our visibility and know, ‘OK, this is a safe place we can go,’” Bryant said.
Bryant said she is looking to facilitate more conversations within the Columbus Division of Police, perhaps through an advisory panel of officers. She also expects to soon launch more initiatives that facilitate conversations between officers and members of the community.
“Transparency is key,” she said. “We absolutely have to be open to those conversations, and we have to be honest with ourselves, and we have to be honest with the community.”
“I think that moving forward, having those conversations– including the community and having those officers being able to sit down together and talk about some of our concerns – talk about some of the things that are bothering the officers, some of the things that are bothering the community, and try to understand each others’ perspective and move forward.”
Bryant said she still has not found a permanent place to live in Columbus but said her new home will be within city limits.