On July 14 a forum on police community relations was held at the New Birth Christian Ministries on Refugee Road. The turnout, which included City Council Staffers and off duty police was less than half the size of recent local protests against police murder. There was a panel discussion which included a Westerville police department representative, City Council President Zach Klein, three representatives of the Columbus Police Department and Civil Rights Attorney Sean Walton.
The Columbus Police's main spokesman repeatedly bombarded the audience with skewed factoids and figures to demonstrate how safe Columbus is and what a good job his department is doing. After conflating calls for service on “shots fired” with actual shots fired in a way makes it look like there are ten times as many bullets in the air than there actually are, he doubled down on the controversial summer safety initiative. He noted that over 100 guns had been seized by the project last summer, but failed to mention that Henry Green's legally owned and registered firearm had been seized this summer after police gunned him down without warning. The Summer Safety Initiative increases undercover police deployment to black neighborhoods to specifically target black youth while school is not in session.
The audience grew tired of the spew of statistics and began to heckle so the topic was changed to in the improvements in diversity training in Columbus and the extensive battery of pyschological testing performed on suburban Westerville police for both hiring and promotion.
Zach Klein was the first to advance the agenda of President Obama's Commission on 21st Century Policing as a solution to the problem of every increasing police violence against black and working class communities. He at least appeared unaware than the commission, whose “mandates” are implemented through the Department of Justice, was a rolodex of civil liberties violators amongst the nation's police executives. He touted body cameras as a solution but when questioned after the forum did not know who the City's contractor was for the controversial technology, he also feigned complete unawareness of the civil liberties concerns or their use for constant biometric surveillance.
Zach Klein is currently running for prosecutor against Ron Obrien, who did not attend. Presumably there was a buffet table somewhere in the city that he could use as an excuse to not be in the same room as Henry Green's mother. Chief Jacobs and Mayor Ginther followed suit, joining Obrien with their absence.
O'Brein's use of a slow moving grand jury system, as well public comments by Police Department Spokesperson Richard “Dick” Weiner came under fire from Civil Rights Attorney Sean Walton. Weiner gave statements to the press within an hour of Green's death, but the department has since clammed up, refusing the speak to Green's family while the case is “under investigation” which could take up to a year.
Walton also noted from the stage that the Ohio Supreme Court Grand Jury Task Force has recommended that the system grand juries run by local prosecutors discontinued in cases of police shootings in favor of a process run by the Attorney General's office. He said later that such a plan was “Not the best idea, but a first step in the right direction.” He added that “legal scholars say things need to change why not Andy Ginther and Chief Jacobs.”
The City has a collective bargaining agreement with FOP lodge #9. This agreement is renewed in private negotiations every few years and includes a “past practices clause” which keeps discipline of officers and investigation of their wrongdoing in line with the way things had been previously done. Civil Rights Advocates have criticized this particular contract clause since the department faced a pattern and practice lawsuit for racial discrimination in 1999. That lawsuit died under the Bush administration.
When I interviewed Walton at length about both the clause and the contract he was not sparing in his criticism “Ultimately I think what we need to attack to is the bargining agreement between the FOP and the City. We transparency in those negotiations, like the past practices clause, not just that clause but that entire contract.”
The contract also includes a procedure that requires citizens to file a complaint against police officers for misconduct within 60 days of the incident. This policy, which was instituted at the behest of the FOP is not told to members of the public unless they file 61 or more days later. Walton also commented on this “You have to file a complaint within 60 days, that's nonesencial, for a lawsuit you have 2 years.”
On the FOP contract as a whole, which expires in November 2017, Walton added more critical statements “I think that is going to one of the biggest roadblocks to change.” Both inside the Washington beltway and inside 270 the focus of most city leaders has been on change and healing through a process and set of goals created by a commission of the most brutal cops in America.
It appears people outside the glass towers have something else in mind.