Council Vote Completes the First Step in a Comprehensive Reimagining of Public Safety in Columbus
Council Passes Landmark Legislative Package Informed by Robust Community Engagement that Reimagines Safety and UpliftsResidents
[COLUMBUS, OH] "Tonight, Council voted on a package of legislation that is the most substantive change to public safety that I've seen in the past decade," said Columbus City Council President Shannon G. Hardin. "We have taken a bold first step to reimagine safety in our City, and we have a great deal of work ahead of us."
Today, Monday, July 27, 2020, Columbus City Council outlined a path toward a more just and equitable City by passing a collection of legislation that reimagines public safety and advances CARES Act funding to the hardest-hit sectors. Each initiative, crafted with resident input, supports Council's ultimate goal of healing, rebuilding and strengthening Columbus.
"With thousands of written statements, emails, and live speakers, we have received unprecedented engagement from residents in this effort," said President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown. "Across the city and spanning nearly every point of view, we are all in search of safer communities for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors."
Reimagining Public Safety
Columbus City Council launched the Reimagine Safety initiative after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis lead to nationwide protests. In late June, Council announced a four-part legislative package to pass prior to the annual August recess. The legislative package includes placing a measure on the November ballot for a Civilian Police Review Board and independent investigatory body, limiting no-knock raids, demilitarizing the Division of Police through the purchasing code, and instituting background checks for hate-group affiliation. After the August break, Council will set forward a community engagement process to Reimagine Safety leading into the budget.
This ordinance creates a Civilian Police Review Board with subpoena power and a professionally staffed investigative unit outside of the Division of Police to review citizen complaints. This supports a process that is fair and transparent for our citizens and our officers.
"We have heard loud and clear that the residents of Columbus are calling to restore trust in the way we conduct public safety in this City," said Councilmember Rob Dorans. "More than 150 communities across the state of Ohio and the Nation have a form of independent civilian oversight of policing that benefits both the residents and our officers - there's no reason we can't achieve that here in Columbus."
This ordinance expands police background checks to include hate group affiliations. An idea submitted by a resident, this effort expands our current hiring processes to include hate group affiliation screening to check for potential issues and conflicts. "There is no place for racism, prejudice, or any type of conscious biases within policing," said Councilmember Shayla Favor. "By expanding our background check process and requiring our officers to denounce hate groups, we are helping ensure our police officers in Columbus are up to the task of protecting and serving all of our residents equally."
This ordinance limits no-knock warrants to halt entry into a business or residence without first knocking or identifying oneself as a police officer. The goal is to prevent mistakes and unlawful approaches to the wrong residence. "We've seen time and time again that mistakes can be made in high-stress situations involving no-knock warrants," said Councilmember Emmanuel V. Remy. "The most recent action involving the murder of Breonna Taylor shows that cities around the country need to do more work to protect their residents from situations similar to this."
This ordinance bans the purchase and use of certain military-grade equipment such as tanks, grenade launchers, and riot batons by the Columbus Police Department. Banning the use of this equipment reinforces the goal of creating a community-based safety force in Columbus by balancing the needs of police officers with the people they serve.
"Reexamining the equipment we give police is an important part of reimagining public safety in our city," said Pro Tem Brown. "Our goal is to demilitarize their presence on our streets and rebuild the covenant of trust and safety between everyday people and the peace officers we employ to keep us safe from harm."
Council will consider additional legislation on Reimagining Public Safety this fall, surrounding the City's budgetary process.
"My main focus remains the safety of the residents of the City of Columbus," said Councilmember Mitchell J. Brown. "While I steadfastly support Chief Thomas Quinlan and the members of the Columbus Division of Police, I believe the legislation passed this evening creates necessary policies and structures to increase officer accountability and community trust."
Council Action Maximizes CARES Act Funding to Uplift Communities
The financial, social and emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic left many families and local businesses facing immediate emergencies based on pre-existing worries. The members of Council have worked diligently to identify areas of need and appropriated funding to begin to address the many challenges faced by Columbus residents, with the hope that further work can be done in these areas to address long-term needs.
"We understand that COVID-19 has impacted almost every facet of people's daily lives", said Councilmember Priscilla Tyson. "We have to consider every opportunity to support residents in not only remaining physically healthy but also contributing to the economic well-being of families and assisting students with tools needed to stay on track academically by working remotely."
Childcare providers are a necessary part of the infrastructure for many Columbus families. This ordinance will authorize a contract with the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services to provide $6,200,000 in federal CARES Act funding for childcare providers. Funds will be distributed to Franklin County eligible providers through monthly grants to support their ongoing operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This ordinance provides $1,500,000 in CARES Act funds to MORPC and the Franklin County Educational Service Center to provide broadband internet access to 10,000 Columbus students. Without access to broadband internet, many students in Columbus are unable to learn in blended or virtual educational opportunities effectively.
Columbus falls behind cities of similar size in the percentage of households that have in-home broadband internet. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the lack of broadband service an even more pressing issue due to increased demand for remote work and education access.
This ordinance provides $7,150,000 in CARES Act funds to Columbus City Schools to purchase 20,000 Chromebooks for students to access virtual and blended learning opportunities. Columbus City Schools will ensure that all students and families can access the devices for virtual learning. The District will also provide hotspots and reliable internet access so that students can use their Chromebooks for lessons and online instruction.
"This pandemic has disproportionately impacted working families who already struggled with access to childcare, technology, and broadband access before this health crisis," said Pro Tem Brown. "We will continue our focus on leveling the playing field for everyone in our community by recognizing and supporting the fundamental infrastructure on which families rely."
This ordinance increases the funding to Impact, Inc. to a maximum amount of $10,000,000 for rental assistance. It also changes the income level of eligibility for a family of four from $26,200 to $67,350. Additionally, the maximum that can be provided to residents will increase from $3,000 to $5,000, allowing the payment of additional months of rent as well as rent that is in arrears. The modification will also allow Impact, Inc. to use the funds to assist with the first month's rent/security deposit to assist with rapid re-housing.
"As the pandemic continues and federal protections for renters expire, it is critical that we continue our work to keep families safely and stably housed," said Councilmember Favor, Chair of the Housing Committee. "With these additional dollars, IMPACT and all of our incredible community partners will be able to enhance their work to help families avoid devastating evictions."
This ordinance modified the agreement with Rev 1 Ventures to increase the small business assistance grant program by $3,300,000. The original grant provided $4.3 million for this program. To date, 126 businesses have been selected, totaling $1.1 million. The deadline for applying will be extended to the end of August, and all small businesses in the City of Columbus with less than 25 employees will be eligible to apply.
The COVID 19 pandemic has caused significant job loss, unemployment, and reduction of income within Columbus and Franklin County. As a result, a significant number of households have been unable to pay their utility bills. This ordinance will allow the City to enter into grant agreements with various social service agencies throughout Central Ohio to allow those agencies to provide utility assistance grants to the residents they serve and households who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The total amount of these grants is $1,020,000.
Council Goes to Voters to Codify Civilian Review Board
Council, Mayor Ginther, City Attorney Zach Klein and a host of community, business and faith leaders stood in solidarity to announce a Charter amendment to codify a Civilian Police Review Board and an Inspector General for the Columbus Division of Police. The initiative will be placed on the November ballot for a vote by Columbus residents.
"Council heard loud and clear that our residents want to see change. Adding a Civilian Police Review Board and independent investigatory body to our City's constitution is a critical step to making that change a reality," said Council President Shannon G. Hardin. "This amendment is a strong starting point to establish a civilian review board and will allow the community to build off this foundation to shape a Board that reflects our shared values."
A civilian review board was one of the recommendations of the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission presented to Mayor Ginther in January. Columbus is one of a handful of the largest cities in the U.S. without some kind of civilian oversight of police.
The Department of the Inspector General for the Columbus Division of Police will be an independent investigatory body that will be fully funded and staffed and directed by the Civilian Police Review Board. The Inspector General will provide for the independent investigations Columbus residents expect. "We would like to thank Mayor Ginther, City Attorney Zach Klein and BakerHostetler for their work in reimagining public safety," said Hardin. "It takes all of us working together to meet the needs of our City."
This is the beginning of the reimagine public safety process. The conversations will continue into the 2021 operating budget process. The Mayor delivers a proposed operating budget to Council in mid-November.
Additionally, Council will begin a thorough investigation into alternative methods for public safety response. The City has already implemented programs such as Rapid Response Emergency Addiction and Crisis Teams (RREACT), which responds to opioid addiction situations, the Mobile Crisis Response Unit, which arrests 90 percent fewer people in mental health crisis situations than regular officers, and APPS, which aims to reduce crime and violence by increasing protective factors in the lives of Columbus youth and young adults (ages 14-23) through proven prevention and intervention strategies.