The Columbus Division of Police announced an organizational restructuring that went into effect this weekend, including a replacement for the disbanded Vice Unit.
The restructuring aims to increase accountability for officers and open communication between Columbus Police and communities. Interim Chief Tom Quinlan says the reorganization is a response to changing community expectations of law enforcement.
“We cannot afford as a law enforcement agency to maintain status quo,” Quinlan says. “We have to change based on what their expectations are, and this approach that we designed is the first step in a many-step process that’s going to address these concerns.”
One of the changes includes replacing the Vice Unit with a Police and Community Together Team (PACT). The Vice Unit was abolished in March following the indictment of former officer Andrew Mitchell on federal charges. Mitchell is charged with kidnapping women under the pretense of an arrest, and forcing them to have sex in exchange for their freedom.
Several other officers have been removed from duty as a result of an internal investigation stemming from the killing of Donna Castleberry and the arrest of Stormy Daniels last summer. An FBI investigation into the Vice Unit is still ongoing.
Under the reorganization, one officer from the Vice Unit will be working with PACT in a training capacity, and although plainclothes officers will still be working on the ground, only uniformed officers will make arrests. The use of undercover officers to make arrests, such as in the case of Castleberry, has been a major point of criticism against Columbus Police.
Quinlan says the team will work with community organizations and partners to identify the most pressing issues in a community and connect people with resources.
“My analysis in disbanding the Vice Unit was that we had a failure of leadership there, a failure of supervision, so we had to fix that weakness or that vulnerability, and this Police And Community Together Team has done that,” Quinlan says.
The restructuring also includes a public corruption task force assigned to the Office of the Chief of Police, which will conduct criminal investigations with the FBI outside of the department when officers engage in criminal activity.
A new Community Services subdivision will focus on engaging with youth during and after school hours, while a community education officer will provide training in defensive tactics for workplaces and organizations.
Rev. Joel L. King Jr., first vice president of the Columbus NAACP, says that accountability, integrity and communication are the most important areas for change for Columbus Police. He wants to see that start with leadership, and reflect throughout the division.
“It might have to change all together because this police department needs to change,” King said. “Plus, Columbus needs to be a model for the country and for the state. If we do that, we will be that.”
Columbus Police are currently conducting a nationwide search for its next police chief.
If you have information to share about the Vice Unit, contact WOSU at firstname.lastname@example.org.