To little surprise, the opioid crisis and Columbus’ record number of homicides in 2017 were repeatedly referenced during Mayor Andrew Ginther’s first of several community forums being held ahead of his upcoming State of the City address.
Each of the forums that are part of the "State of the City: Neighborhood Conversations" series will have an individual topic. The Wednesday event focused on neighborhood safety.
“My initiatives cannot be completed by the city alone,” Ginther said at the Reeb Center. “We need partners.”
Many of those partners joined him on-stage to talk about the city’s biggest safety-related issues. Robin Watson from the Far South Side Area Commission said the opioid crisis has transformed her neighborhood.
“I will tell you that as of March of 2016,” Watson said, “we became a ‘Priority Red’ as far as (police) calls in our community. Which means they had escalated into more-violent crimes."
Denise Robinson from Alvis, a non-profit organization that helps people transition to life outside of prison, said the opioid epidemic has made her group’s work harder.
“Eighty percent of persons that are in the criminal justice system have a substance use disorder or a mental health issue,” Robinson said. “When you look at those numbers, something has to be done.”
Ginther said communities will get help from his new Community Safety Initiative. Ginther’s 2018 budget plan would spend $2 million on a series of new public safety initiatives, aimed at reducing gun violence and restoring community-police relations.
Instead of traditional policing, these programs offer social services and violence intervention as a means of preventing crime in the city's more at-risk neighborhoods. Many grassroots organizations in the city already offer these services, and have done so for years.
The next community conversation event is scheduled for February 13 at the J. Ashburn Jr. Youth Center in the Hilltop.