Increased crime in the area of Brice Road and Livingston Avenue area led a former reserve police officer to request a Reynoldsburg City Council discussion about improved police protection and safety in his neighborhood.
Bruce Sowell, who served on the Reynoldsburg Reserve Police Force from 1989 to 2004, spoke to council Jan. 22 during its Safety Committee meeting.
"My neighbors and I are greatly concerned about the crime problem that has existed there for a long time," he said. "The area is dotted with hotels and bars, liquor stores and carryouts, fast-food restaurants and a few good businesses trying to survive.
"The spillover of crime in the area from Columbus is reason for my concern," he said. "There have been three drive-by shootings, one murder that spilled over from Columbus, two shootouts in the Brice and Livingston areas and numerous problems at the Century City apartments, along with robberies in the area."
Sowell sent a letter to all members of council with his suggestions to help solve the problem. He said Mayor Brad McCloud and the city safety director could work with Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and his safety director to create joint patrols in the Brice Road corridor. He said the city also could rebuild its police reserve unit, which he said "has been allowed to deteriorate to a few officers."
Other suggestions were to recruit more minority officers and to look for a grant to refit a green building as the new metro substation, to be equipped with a breathalyzer machine, holding cells and working space.
"We should also get the Reynoldsburg Police Pal league started by partnering with the Reynoldsburg City Schools to start getting more kids off the streets and into activities such as midnight basketball, school dances, video-game shootouts and other things," he said. "This will foster better communication and lines of understanding to the community to which it serves."
McCloud addressed the minority officer issue, saying he researched surrounding communities to determine how many minority officers are serving in those communities.
He said Grove City has 62 officers, with one minority officer; Worthington has three minority officers among its 32 police officers; Gahanna has one minority officer among 54 officers; and Hilliard has no minority officers among its 54 police officers.
"We have 53 officers and three minorities," McCloud said. "Obviously, we would like to recruit more minority officers, but we are by no means an anomaly."
Sowell said those statistics are "not good enough for Reynoldsburg."
"We are a diverse community," he said. "That is an excuse I won't accept and I plan to get some people together to address that problem."
Police Chief Jim O'Neill said there is just one full-time opening available on the city's police force.
"We do have plans to add 15 officers to the reserve officer force in the next 15 months," he said.
O'Neill said reserve officers are volunteer police officers who go through police academy training, then receive more training by Reynoldsburg field training officers.
"The bottleneck we face when talking about reserve officers is that we only get them for part-time hours," he said. "We have four training officers and it takes about a year to get someone trained."
O'Neill agreed there has been increased crime in the Brice Road and Livingston Avenue area.
"We have had a significant unit of action at Brice and Livingston and are across the board busier in that area than we were five years ago," he said.
Councilman Chris Long, chairman of the Safety Committee, said it will take "a concerted team effort between us and the city of Columbus" to make improvements in the area.
Long said city leaders will meet with Coleman and Columbus City Council members.
"We will sit down and talk about the fact it is mutually beneficial for us to work together on that area," he said.
Councilman Cornelius McGrady said he shares Sowell's concerns over the area.
"We will be putting a boatload of money into that area to improve the road soon," he said. "I think we need to seize this opportunity to work together to clear up that area. I had an improvement meeting with Columbus Mayor Coleman recently and he was also interested in cleaning up that area."
Councilman Mel Clemens said the problem "is not a new one."
"We talk about this every year, but nothing gets done," he said.
Clemens said the city needs "more personnel in our police district" and a development director.
Long said there is no quick solution for the corridor.
"This won't go away quickly, but we have a number of people looking into this," he said, "and if I tell you I am getting involved, I will be involved."