Columbus City Council passed a handful of amendments to the 2021 city budget on Thursday, including one that suspends police hiring until a recruiting audit concludes later this year.
Bouncing an infant on her knee, Council president pro tem Elizabeth Brown acknowledged this year’s budgeting process has been “non-traditional."
“Given that I gave birth in the middle of it,” Brown said, “and am now on a sort of version of maternity leave.”
"Non-traditional" is an understatement. COVID-19 and a reckoning over police violence have prompted a serious rethinking of the city's spending. Mayor Andrew Ginther's initial proposal curtailed police funding by $20 million, instead shifting those dollars to the public health budget funding additional social workers.
The city also set aside $1 million for a Civilian Review and Inspector General, to investigate police misconduct and provide oversight, after voters overhelmingly approved the idea last November. Columbus also launched a nationwide search for a new police chief after Ginther demoted Tom Quinlan, saying he could not institute necessary reforms within the department.
Columbus City Council is proposing further changes still, with the most significant amendment to the $970 million budget coming at the end of the hearing. Council president Shannon Hardin explained he was moving to delay hiring from a proposed June police recruiting class, while an audit of Columbus Police hiring practices goes forward.
“Delaying this class amounts to a $2.5 million reallocation,” Hardin said. “We believe this reallocation is reasonable considering that those funds will be redirected to aligned efforts, including anti-youth-violence intervention, medical training and first aid equipment for officers to implement 'Andre’s Law' and youth workforce development.”
At the beginning of the month, Columbus Council passed "Andre's Law" to require officers to activate their body cameras and provide first aid. The measure is named for Andre Hill, who was fatally shot in December by Columbus Police officer Adam Coy. The city fired Coy for failing to activate his bodycam until after shooting Hill and not providing aid until several minutes later. He recently pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges.
Hardin does expect for the city to hire a class of recruits, likely in December, and said he would work with other city leaders to potentially expand the size of that class.
“It is on all of us to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to stop the violence, and I believe that we must take the time to get the next class right,” Hardin said.
Unlike other amendments, Hardin’s proposal went to a vote one-by-one, and Council members Mitchell Brown and Priscilla Tyson voted "no."
In an emailed statement, Ginther disagreed with the idea as well.
“Such action will delay increasing the diversity and enhanced training of our officers, which our community demands,” Ginther wrote. “Maintaining—not increasing—the current level of uniformed officers is also important as we battle the rising number of homicides and other violent crimes in our neighborhoods.
The two "no" votes sparked frustration among some local activists. In a statement, Columbus organizer Jasmine Ayres applauded the delay as responding to the calls of activists, clergy and families. She added that Brown and Tyson “must vote to delay on February 22" when the budget comes up for a vote.
“Crime does not magically disappear because we want it to, and the policing methods of the past have clearly failed,” Ayres writes. “Like anything it requires time and investment. It is past time to shift to investing in prevention instead of punishment.”
The Fraternal Order of Police has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Columbus Police leaders say the Council's proposal came as a surprise. In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight explained the pipeline for new recruits is long, with initial applications for the June 2021 class beginning in March 2020.
“If we can’t keep up with attrition that we’re currently experiencing at the Division of Police, we have to make some adjustments on how we serve the citizens,” Knight says. “So we’re going to have to decide what things we can’t do, and I don’t want to have to be in that position.”
Knight argues delaying the class means those recruits may find work elsewhere, and notes the upcoming class was the most diverse they’ve ever compiled. According to department records, however, Columbus Police have hired at most seven Black officers per police class since 2010.
Earlier during Thursday’s hearing, Council members walked through the different policies they proposed as amendments to the budget. Brown described how their efforts fall into four different, $10 million funds: reimagining public safety, supporting families, economic recovery, and COVID-19 crisis response.
Some examples of their proposals include:
President pro tem Elizabeth Brown
- Right to Recover program, which provides wage replacement after someone contracts COVID-19
- Financial empowerment roadmap, which helps families develop plans to achieve financial security
- Housing assistance for expectant mothers
Council member Mitchell Brown
- TAPS program, which connects at-risk middle school students with Columbus Police
- HIRE program, which helps people get jobs after incarceration
- Additional funding for senior services related to COVID-19
Council member Rob Dorans
- Funding for utility payment assistance
- A new position focused on enforcing new wage theft ordinance
- Funding to expand a broadband pilot
- Programming to pre-register minority- and women-owned businesses for city contracting opportunities
Council member Shayla Favor
- Additional funding for Columbus Legal Aid to provide counsel to residents facing eviction
- Columbus Families Together Fund, which helps families facing immigration enforcement
- Funding for Deliver Black Dreams, which creates public art and will expand to educational and vocational programs
- Columbus Youth Council for skills training for 18-24 year olds
Council member Emmanuel Remy
- Double the Cleaner Columbus Employment program, which gave temporary employment cleaning neighborhoods to people facing economic hardship
Council member Priscilla Tyson
- Continued funding for the local food action plan, addressing food insecurity.
- Continued funding for the Commission On Black girls, focused on girls aged 11-22.
The bulk of these proposals were added to the spending plan in a handful of amendments. Council will vote on the budget as amended during its meeting February 22.