As Columbus leaders turn to voters to approve police oversight measures, Reynoldsburg city officials and the local police union have reached an agreement in principle for a new Civilian Review Board.
The proposed nine-member panel will be tasked primarily with cases of discrimination, but can launch investigations into use-of-force incidents. The board will also have subpoena power, but it’s somewhat limited.
The same union, the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge 9, is about to enter contract negotiations with the city of Columbus, whose leaders have made their own Civilian Review Board a top priority. A working group in charge of crafting that board met for the first time Tuesday.
Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of the local FOP, helped work on the deal with the city of Reynoldsburg. Simpson insists the union doesn’t oppose oversight, arguing that this is the first time they’ve been approached with a Civilian Review Board proposal.
“This is, to be quite honest with you, a flash point issue that’s surfacing kind of like when body cameras came up, but I wouldn’t say it’s entirely accurate that we’ve been resistant to Civilian Review Boards,” Simpson says. “We wanted to make sure that, even though we can’t control it, that there were people that appear non-biased. I liked about this one the four wards in Reynoldsburg were represented.”
The Reynoldsburg plan includes one member each from the city’s four wards, selected by that area’s city council member.
The mayor gets to choose the other five, but that group must meet a series of eligibility requirements. Two must be from minority communities, one must be a practicing attorney and one has to have a background in human resources. The final member must have a law enforcement background, but can’t be an active Reynoldsburg police officer.
The city's provisions also requires review board members to complete the police academy training program and go on a ride-along.
Reynoldsburg’s legislation could lead to frustrating outcomes, though. The board is charged with returning a finding that falls within potentially six different categories. While that may give more flexibility in terms of explaining how the board reached a given decision, more outcomes could make reaching a majority more difficult.
The board is also prohibited from writing discipline recommendations when it determines a complaint is “sustained,” or found to be accurate. Simpson defends this limitation.
“I use this example: If you had a group of electricians that wired a building and that building did not work properly, and it’s a million-dollar contract and led to catastrophic failure or problems in their work product, would you call in a bunch of plumbers to oversight and issue discipline on the electricians?” Simpson asks.
“I think that you have to be very careful,” he goes on, “when you’re recommending discipline for someone that has never worn a badge or is not professionally involved directly in that career.”
In Columbus, relations have been tense between the union and city officials. Mayor Andrew Ginther has criticized the FOP directly for standing in the way of past reforms.
Although Simpson doesn’t say the Reynoldsburg proposal should be replicated in Columbus, he argues the tenor of those negotiations should.
“I’m happy about what we’re doing in Reynoldsburg, it’s good,” Simpson says.
He suggests that Ginther is setting the union up as a kind of scapegoat.
“Certainly it helps us in Reynoldsburg, where I have a clear proposal in front of me and transparency to actually sit down with the other side and talk about it,” Simpson says. “It’s kind of a radical concept.”
Reynoldsburg officials plan to take up a finalized version of the proposal in September.