Columbus leaders unveiled a list of planned police reforms on Thursday, including $4.5 million for new body cameras and a proposal to enforce their use, a month after the city faced two incidents in which white law enforcement officers shot and killed Black men.
Calls for police reform around the country were already loud and growing in 2020. But the back-to-back killings of Casey Goodson Jr. and Andre Hill at the hands of local law enforcement in December increased pressure on local leaders to act.
Details surrounding Goodson’s death are murky because the Franklin County Sheriff's Deputy who killed him was not wearing a body camera. Spurred by outrage over the incident, the Sheriff's Office and county officials recently announced they’d purchase body cameras for the first time.
Weeks later, then-Columbus Police officer Adam Coy shot Hill within seconds of encountering him in a neighbor's garage, but didn’t turn his camera on until after pulling the trigger. The other officer at the scene, Amy Detweiller, also failed to activate her bodycam. That means there is no audio available from either officer of the 60 seconds preceding the shooting.
After shooting Hill, body camera footage showed Coy and other officers handcuffing Hill, but failing to offer first aid as the unresponsive man lay on the ground.
Hill’s daughter Karissa proposed “Andre’s Law,” which would penalize officers who fail to activate their camera or provide aid on the scene. City Council President Shannon Hardin says they plan to take up a version of that legislation next Monday.
“Andre’s Law will not solve all police violence,” Hardin said at a press conference Thursday. “But it’s one more step in the right direction to ensure we know what’s happening on the scene, based on bodycam footage, and ensure that if residents are hurt peace officers are there to render the aid. And if officers don’t comply, that there can be greater accountability.”
In addition to codifying disciplinary action for officers, Hardin says "Andre's Law" lays the groundwork to pursue criminal charges in extreme cases.
The city has also earmarked $4.5 million for upgrades to its camera system, in part, Mayor Andrew Ginther explains, to make them less reliant on officers manually activating their bodycams.
“This ‘always on’ function will help ensure that any critical incident, and anything immediately leading up to the incident is captured on video with audio,” Ginther says.
Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan also shared plans for a new early intervention system for officers. The idea is to bring data points like recent service calls, changes in address, or a spike in sick days to identify officers who might need counseling or other support services. Quinlan describes the system he wants as a kind of dashboard.
“Supervisors will be able to check in on their officers from a wide array of areas that might be more predictive of an officer in need of an intervention for their wellness and for the public good,” Quinlan says.
In an emailed statement, Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, dismissed the efforts as “political sensationalism.”
“Until the voters require their politicians to actually do something productive about the crime in this City instead of politicize it, this chaos will continue,” Simpson wrote. “I encourage the Mayor and City Council to work with Law Enforcement in a meaningful, constructive manner rather than demonize us on a daily basis.”
The changes come as the city hammers out a contract with the police union, and as many residents debate what the police department should look like, and what it should be responsible for, moving forward. Columbus is in the process of choosing members for the voter-approved Civilian Review Board, which will investigate allegations of police misconduct, and Columbus Council is holding a series of town halls seeking public input on how to “reimagine public safety."
Police reform advocates recently decried the fact that Hill's death resulted from officers responding to a non-emergency call, and Hardin has said coming up with alternatives to police response is his top priority.
Ginther says they’re on the same page, but that neither of them envision the police going away.
“We need law enforcement, our police officers play a very critical role, they are incredibly important to this community and the safety of our community,” Ginther says. “But we cannot continue to expect our officers to solve all of our community’s problems.”
Quinlan echoed that point, noting the only thing that hasn’t changed in his 30-year career is that new problems become police problems.