COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The president of the Fraternal Order of Police representing the Columbus Division of Police said the city lacks leadership.
During a press conference Tuesday, President Keith Ferrell of the FOP Capital City Lodge #9 said the city’s leadership, or lack of, has been apparent during the last six days of protest and unrest in downtown Columbus.
“I reached out to the mayor’s office, I’ve reached out to city council,” Ferrell said. “They have not returned our calls. In an attempt to deescalate this situation, in an attempt to work with city officials like we always agree to do and we have not heard back.”
He went on to say the lack of communication between city leadership and the FOP will hold up any changes from being made.
“I don’t know how we move forward in this community with leadership that won’t reach out to the other side to help out,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell pointed out the use of police body cameras as a change the union has made in conjunction with city leadership as an example of the FOP’s willingness to make changes.
He also pointed out that the body camera footage fails to back up complaints of racism inside the department.
“We will say that that body camera has shown that while the mayor and other elected officials have painted this department with being stricken with racism, those body cameras’ footage does not show that, complaints do not show that,” Ferrell said. He added that the officers are not perfect, and that is why the department has started an open dialogue with city leaders.
Ferrell said the Columbus Police Department is one of the best trained in the country with officers undergo extensive training on implicit bias, adding that Mayor Andrew Ginther made that a requirement, but then turns around and says there’s a systemic racism problem within the department.
Ferrell later said city management has failed the Columbus Police Department, adding that Ginther and Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan said officers needed to handle peaceful protesters and rioters differently, but didn’t offer any suggestions on how to do that.
“We were criticized for using tear gas or gas down the street,” Ferrell said. “Couldn’t we just go in and arrest? Let me tell you, folks. We are trained to use as little force as possible to complete the mission. OK. I go into a crowd and put my hands on people, what happens? It creates a bigger problem. It puts those people at risk, it puts people around that person at risk, and it puts my officers at risk.”
Ferrell called out Ginther, saying he is failing to stand up for the police officers and the business community.
“We hear a lot of talk, but we’re not seeing it,” he said.
He said he would like to see city leadership stand up for police officers.
“I would like to see them stand up strongly and discourage violence against police,” Ferrell said. “We’ve heard it here and there, but (New York City) Mayor (Bill) de Blasio, who is not friends with the FOP or the police union there in New York, made a very strong statement today and I don’t want to wait until an officer gets killed here, which we’re seeing, or shot for someone to jump up and make a statement. The time is now, and it’s not just about officers. It’s about the businesses and the community and the good citizens of this community that deserve better, because they’re going to get hurt, too.”
Ferrell said the officers within the Columbus Police support the peaceful protests.
“I talked to them in the streets last night,” he said. “I stood out on Broad Street and talked to them, and I’ll share the story they told me. They were peaceful. I said, ‘Hey, we’ll stand with you. We want your voice to be heard even if it’s about us. That’s your right, and we all believe in that.'”
He then relayed a story from a protester who had a gun pointed into their face by a “rioter” and not a police officer, saying the person was upset.
“Another ‘rioter’ put a gun in their face, and they were upset,” Ferrell said. “And every peaceful protester who lives in the city of Columbus should be upset because their voices should be heard and shouldn’t be shut down because people choose to riot and destroy this town that businesses have built.”
The press conference comes after several days of protests against in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
The Columbus Division of Police is facing accusations of aggressive policing, with officers using tear gas and pepper spray.
Monday, Mayor Ginther asked for people to send evidence of excessive force by the Columbus Division of Police during protests to a special email address for civilian review.
Ferrell said the department has never fought against investigations, but asks for fair, impartial investigations, but called on the mayor’s office to also investigate all the “criminal acts that have been committed against my officers.”
“We are all for that, a fair and impartial investigation, but we expect and demand that all those other instances be treated just as fairly,” he said.
When asked about protesters being sprayed with pepper spray, he said that was the point the protester turned into someone else.
“I would say more than likely, at that point, they’re not protesters, and if they’re the good protesters, it’s unfortunate,” Ferrell said. “The rioters have ruined it, and if at some point, we have to enforce the law to clear the streets and not allow vandalism and damage, and enforce the mayor’s signed order for the curfew… yes, absolutely, pepper spray is used at times. When we get on the loudspeaker and say it’s time to disperse, it has become an illegal function due to the bad apples and it’s time to go.”