Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced a comprehensive neighborhood safety strategy on Thursday, expected to be submitted at next week’s City Council meeting.
At the press conference, Ginther painted a picture of a dire situation in Columbus. He said the city’s three safety challenges are a spike in homicides, the opioid crisis and the “strained relationship between community and police.”
Columbus has seen 113 homicides to date this year, Ginther said, and nearly half of those remain unsolved. Of those unsolved homicides, half don’t have a known motive or suspect.
Among Ginther's plans to confront the crisis, one of the biggest changes is the end of the city's controversial "Community Safety Initiative."
“That’s based on collective input from the community, from law enforcement, from neighborhood and community leaders," Ginther said. "We think this is gonna have a far more powerful and impactful way to police in our community."
The safety initiative was an expansion of Columbus Police's summer program targeting higher-crime areas with increased patrols and plain-clothed officers. Critics have accused the program of racial profiling and hurting community-police relations, especially after the killing of Henry Green by two plain-clothed officers.
This summer, Green's family filed a federal lawsuit against Columbus Police alleging racial discrimination and wrongful death.
Ginther referenced 2017 Linden Safe Streets, the program rolled out in Linden last summer that resulted in more than 100 tips to police and reduced gun violence by 55 percent.
“We’re going to be more proactive in helping to build police community relations, get information from the community about all these unsolved homicides, because as we talked about nearly half of them are unsolved," he said.
He’s hoping a pilot program that will increase foot patrols in 2018 — proposed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the NAACP —will bring about similar results. The neighborhood for the new foot patrol pilot hasn’t been determined yet.
Ginther announced the city is also going to create an 11-member community safety advisory commission that will review how the Columbus Police operate.
“I believe we need a public, transparent community review of the Columbus Police training policies and procedures,” Ginther said to applause. “A review that recommends public safety strategies, expectations and to protect and serve our entire community.”
That commission will be made up of community members that are supposed to reflect the city’s diversity. By the end of 2020, 50 percent of all frontline officers out in the community will have crisis intervention training. Currently, every new recruit receives the training.
Over the next 10 years, Ginther said he wants to double minority representation among Columbus first responders. There will be a $2 million fund for police to implement all the new training while still maintaining patrols in Columbus. The city will also invest $1.8 million in a neighborhood crisis response team to create more deterrents to crime, like recreation centers and more street lights.
The city will also expand the Recreation and Parks Department’s Job Readiness Program, investing around $200,000 to provide young adults alternatives to prison. Ginther also proposed funding a program manager and four caseworkers for the CARE Coalition in Columbus Public Health, which provides services to address trauma people experience after witnessing violent crime.
Applications for the safety advisory committee to review the police’s training procedures will come out next month.
An earlier version of this story said "strange" instead of "strained."