COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The U.S. Department of Justice’s review on the Columbus police force’s operations included recommendations for some changes in the department.
Mayor Andrew Ginther, City Attorney Zach Klein, Safety Director Robert Clark, and Police Chief Elaine Bryant spoke with the media on the early findings of the DOJ’s final report, which was released in full on Tuesday.
From a macro perspective, the report targeted four areas where CPD needed improvement:
- Organizational structure
- Community engagement
The DOJ acknowledged some existing plans like establishing a separate homicide bureau. The federal agency made some noteworthy observations alongside the changes it recommended, including that CPD’s community liaison officers lacked proper training for their roles.
“Regrettably, the CLOs interviewed by the team also defined their duties at length with little to no understanding of community-based problem-solving,” the report stated. “CLO is seen as the feel-good job in the division.”
Under its notes for technology, the DOJ urged Columbus police to switch to entirely digital reports, and that its current system involving paper reports should “end immediately.”
“Current internal technology allows for all police reports to be written online and submitted online … supervisors and commanders still prefer to do everything in paper form through the archaic blue sheet method,” the report stated. “The problem with paper reporting is the high likelihood for human error, as well as for calculation mistakes that can skew data reporting and decrease the division’s ability to track crime trends, officer data collection errors and disconcerting behaviors.”
New training offerings also came up in the DOJ’s report. It recommended possible training involving Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein in the city’s police academy, as well as training offerings from the FBI and other federal agencies for officers in varying ranks.
Read the full report by clicking here.
Tuesday’s update was more than year in the making since the Justice Department accepted an offer from Ginther in September 2021 to review the city’s police force. The request was made after police were scrutinized for its response to protests Downtown during the summer of 2020 and the shooting deaths of Andre’ Hill, an unarmed Black man, by an officer who was fired from the force a week later, and Ma’Khia Bryant, a teenager who was threatening to attack others with a knife, among other incidents.
BELOW: What led to the Department of Justice reviewing the Columbus police department
“This report validates that we are on the right track,” says Ginther. “But it also indicates there is still much work to be done.” Ginther also said the City of Columbus followed up with the DOJ with a new letter requesting independent examination of the police’s use of force policies, technology, and looking into community policing training practices.
Bryant went into some of the highlights of the report and what action police will be taking in response. Among them is the DOJ’s recommendation to form a leadership group which Bryant said will be led by Assistant Chief Lashanna Potts and include members from a variety of offices. “This will hold the division accountable,” said Bryant. “And we can also update the public on the progress we make.”
The DOJ also highlighted CPD’s need to “reorganize” in its report, Bryant said. In response, CPD will add a third assistant chief and propose to increase the number of patrol zones. They also plan to restructure the community liaison officers into a “strong, community-engaged problem-solving initiative,” Bryant said.
Community leaders like Columbus attorney Sean Walton said he wants more.
“It’s more of the same. It’s not what the people of Columbus need or even asked for, so in my opinion it’s been a waste of time and resources and there should’ve been a different focus as a result of this report,” Walton said.
Walton is also the co-founder of the Columbus Police Accountability Project.
He said before city leaders asked for this review in 2021, their organization contacted the DOJ asking for an investigation into the use of force by police.
“If we are going to really take a look at this and solve the issues facing the city we have to take an honest look at it and that’s not going to happen from a review,” Walton said.
Recently, Columbus police were called out again by Rebecca Duran and her legal team to fire an officer who fatally shot her son Donovan Lewis in August. Lewis, 20, was shot by Officer Ricky Anderson in the Hilltop during an attempted arrest. Lewis was unarmed.
On Monday, Columbus police showed body camera footage of a shooting Sunday where Officer Joshua Ohlinger shot 66-year-old Michael Cleveland, who ran away after a traffic stop. It was the second time Ohlinger had shot a suspect after a traffic stop in six months.