COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Columbus City Council approved two pieces of legislation stemming from the city’s George Floyd protests, changing the way police officers respond to similar situations.
The first bill passed by the council Monday will “demilitarize” the city’s police force by limiting the use of certain equipment and tactics when trying to control nonviolent protesters.
“I think that this effort is really a demonstration of the city that we are going to protect First Amendment rights, but that we’re also going to be clear about the rules because so much of what we heard two years ago was really about confusion on orders in the streets,” Columbus City Council President Pro Tempore Brown said before the council vote. “Things did not go well Downtown and part of that was the rules were unclear.”
This new ordinance limits the police department’s use of tear gas, non-lethal crowd control weapons like wooden or rubber rounds, the city’s police helicopter, and other measures. The ordinance also limits the use of armored vehicles, tactical vehicles, explosives, and tear gas launchers to members of the department’s tactical units.
The ordinance puts on the books a permanent injunction established in a Dec. 29, 2021 ruling in the case of Alsaada, et. al. v. City of Columbus, et. al., a case filed due to the 2020 protests in Columbus following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The ordinance allows for officers, after establishing probable cause, to use such weapons and tactics if officers see “actual or imminently threatened physical harm or property destruction or… criminal trespass on private property or secured government buildings/facilities, areas, or structures.”
The ordinance, sponsored by Brown, states the militarization of police in the city and across the country “undermines public trust and creates barriers to the resident-officer connections that are necessary for law enforcement to uphold the public’s safety.”
Brown said the city needs to continue to invest in the community and accountability.
“I really believe that this legislation helps our police division better embody the peacekeeping that’s at the heart of every officer’s role and at the heart of why I actually believe most officers sign up for serving in the first place,” Brown said before the council vote. “It is important that we recognize the peacekeeping at the heart of our law enforcement’s mission. It’s important that we give them the ground rules and the equipment and that we regulate the equipment in order for them to fulfill that role.”
The public was given the chance to comment on the changes before the vote.
“I know there will be some that oppose this ordinance, but I ask them, ‘Why?’ said resident Adrienne Hood. “If public safety is to protect and serve, then there is no need for officers to have militarized weapons and equipment. You are not at war with the community you’re supposed to be serving.”
The ordinance passed unanimously.
The ordinance, sponsored by Councilmember Rob Dorans, requires officers to wear their names and badge number on alternative uniforms and riot gear.
Council approved funding to help with the measure.
“$150,000 for the Divison of Police to have in order to effectuate all the purchases they would need in order to comply with the ordinance,” Dorans said.
Both ordinances state the changes come from resident feedback as well as consultation with legal, law enforcement, and civil rights experts.
Brown said it is important to write both ordinances into the city code for any future protests.
“It is important that people feel empowered to exercise their First Amendment right, no matter where they sit on the political spectrum, and that is key and that’s why these things belong in code, so it’s not up to our individual whims at any given moment,” she said.
The city has faced lawsuits due to alleged misconduct between officers and community members during the 2020 protests. Brown and Dorans said the ordinances are important for accountability and to continue to build trust.
Both ordinances now head to Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther for signature.
Council also passed a resolution establishing the rules for Columbus’ Civilian Police Review Board, which will be in charge of reviewing misconduct and excessive force complaints filed against Columbus officers.