Tom Quinlan Named New Columbus Police Chief

Dec 17, 2019

Thomas Quinlan will step up to become the next Columbus Police chief. His promotion caps off a nationwide search that considered candidates from outside the department for the first time in city history, but ultimately ended back at the 30-year veteran who's served as interim chief for the last year.

Speaking Tuesday morning at the Michael B. Coleman Government Center, Quinlan referenced the work he's already done at the department's helm and promised to continue making reforms.

"We’ve come a long way during the past year," said Quinlan at a press conference Tuesday morning. "We’ve enhanced policing in Columbus with innovative new strategies. We’re transforming the organization and redefining our mission and values. We continue to be community focused and service driven, while preparing for, responding to and going beyond the call.

“The message I deliver today to the Division of Police and to the city of Columbus is this: We’ve only just begun," Quinlan continued.

Ginther himself pushed for the department to open up its police chief search, saying he wanted someone committed to increasing diversity among officers and improving community-police relations.

"I was committed to finding the best person to serve the comunity and our officers, whether that person came from outside or inside the division," Ginther said.

Quinlan, Ginther said, was the "change agent" that the department needed.

"Serving as interim chief, Tom has made solid strides in the right direction, including a complete reorganization of the division," Ginther said.

Mayor Andrew Ginther announces the selection of Tom Quinlan as the new Chief of Columbus Police, on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019.
Credit Adora Namigadde / WOSU

The mayor did acknowledge that his decision might be criticized - many in the community had hoped for a more radical change in the department. But Ginther says he hopes Quinlan will have support during his transition.

"He doesn't work for the division. He works for the city of Columbus," Ginther said. "It's important for us to remember and undestand that distinction."

Quinlan also acknowledged that some community members wanted a police chief from outside Columbus' ranks.

"At the end of the day, the job has to get done and I'm in the position that has been tasked with that job," Quinlan said. "So I'm gonna carry out those duties for everyone in the community, regardless of where they stand on that issue."

The proces began earlier this year after former chief Kim Jacobs announced her retirement last Christmas Eve. Quinlan, formerly the deputy police chief, was appointed as interim chief in January.

Throughout the summer, the city held community forums and posted an online survey to ask residents what they wanted in their next chief. Thirty-six people applied for the job in October, and the city conducted interviews with five finalists.

By November, the city narrowed down its search to two: Quinlan and retired Seattle Assistant Police Chief Perry Tarrant.

At a November community forum, Tarrant and Quinlan both emphasized their focus on community policing and efforts they’ve made to improve police-neighborhood relations.

Tarrant retired in September 2018 from the Seattle Police department, and and was the former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. He was also named a finalist for a police chief job in Portland, Ore.

Quinlan, 53, first joined Columbus Police in 1989 and has been a deputy chief since 2013. One of his first major decisions as interim chief was to abolish the controversial Vice Unit, which remains under FBI investigation.

One former officer, Andrew Mitchell, was indicted on federal charges in March. In July, another five Vice Unit officers were departmentally charged over the arrest of Stormy Daniels. That month, Quinlan announced a departmental reorganization and the launch of the Police And Community Together Team (PACT) to replace the Vice Unit.

Tom Quinlan (left) and Perry Tarrant (right) at a forum for the finalists of the Columbus Police Chief position.
Credit Adora Namigadde / WOSU

During Tuesday's press conference, both Quinlan and Ginther referenced a 300-page report conducted by independent firm Matrix Consulting that found Columbus Police disproportionately used force against black suspects. The survey, released in August, also found disparities in perceptions of police among white and black residents.

Quinlan named that report as one of his top three immediate priorities as the new chief.

"One, I have to build my leadership team. I need to fill the deputy chief position," Quinlan said. "I need to work on funding for technology issues to give officers time to do the job in the communities and neighborhoods proactively."

Ginther urged Quinlan to carry out the recommendations laid out by the Matrix report, which included increasing time for community engagement, improving de-escalation training, and address discrimination inside the division.

"I expect a great deal from Chief Quinlan," Ginther said. "Not perfection, but continued progress. And I am confident in his ability to deliver."

In a press release, Columbus City Council members praised the choice of Quinlan as chief.

“This is a critical time to make deep changes to the culture of the Division of Police, and I believe Chief Thomas Quinlan is ready to implement the reforms of the Matrix review and Citizens Committee,” read a statement from Council president Shannon Hardin. “I trust Quinlan to be available, direct and open with residents as he deals with issues of racism, crime and neighborhood safety.”

In addition to Ginther and Public Safety Director Ned Pettus, the search committee for the new chief included:

  • Dawn Tyler Lee, Chair, Deputy Chief of Staff of External Affairs in the Office of the Mayor
  • Dallas Baldwin, Franklin County Sheriff
  • Dee Debenport, Coordinator, Merion Village Block Watch
  • Stephanie Hightower, President, Columbus Urban League
  • Reverend Dr. Jefferey P. Kee, New Faith Baptist Church of Christ
  • Kenny Ramos, Retired Sergeant, Columbus Division of Police
  • Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, Development Director, Equality Ohio
  • Pastor Brian Williams, Hope City House of Prayer