COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Columbus Division of Police is setting its sights on ending gang violence in the city, including through a pilot program for a new special unit called Gang Enforcement.
But after Memphis law enforcement officials deactivated a similar team in the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death, some people are questioning the timing. Members of the now-disbanded SCORPION unit were seen on video — publicly released last Friday night — brutally beating Nichols in January after pulling him over. He died three days later.
Assistant Columbus Division of Police Chief Lashanna Potts said the unit’s focus will be identifying adult gang members and bringing them to justice, and that officers making up the specialized team were selected for their minimal use of force and eagerness to help the community.
“This unit is for that small minority who think they can come into Columbus, use gangs to terrorize their neighborhoods, that is who this unit is targeting,” she said.
The officers will be in marked cars, in uniform, wearing body cameras, and recognizable on the street, she said. “The group that we have are highly committed, they are being specially trained,” Potts said.
NBC4 asked her how CPD will ensure sure a situation similar to Memphis won’t happen in Columbus. She said that the Gang Enforcement unit and the defunct SCORPION unit are distinctly different, and that in Columbus, there will be more oversight.
“We have multi-layered the approach to be sure that we keep our hands on it,” Potts said.
She also said that she believes the unit will prove that police officers are there to help community members, not hurt them.
“Columbus police reduced crime, especially murders, by 33% last year,” Potts said. “We have proven that the officers are committed to reducing crime, but not only that, our community engagement since we arrived here has been unlike it has ever been in the city of Columbus.”
The pilot program for Gang Enforcement is underway, and people in Columbus will likely begin seeing the unit on the streets very soon, she said.