Columbus City Council plans to introduce legislation dealing with demilitarizing police, requiring background check to see if police have ties to hate groups, and eliminate non-knock warrants
Columbus City Council plans to consider demilitarizing city police while taking other steps to address potential police abuses through legislation, including eliminating or limiting “no-knock” warrants for raids and requiring hate-group background checks of officers.
The seven council members laid out their proposals Thursday at City Hall, which also include having independent investigations into police use of lethal force.
“What we are after is radical change,” Council President Shannon Hardin said.
That also means “reimagining” public safety when the council begins its 2021 budget deliberations later this year.
“What keeps all residents safe? We know the long-standing system isn’t doing that,” Council President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown said. “We want to be pro-progress, pro-change, pro-civil rights.”
Council plans to hold public hearings to discuss these issues before voting on legislation in July, prior to its summer break.
The first hearing, on revisions to the city’s purchasing code dealing with police funding, will be at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The move for change comes as demonstrations for police reform continue Downtown in the wake of the Memorial Day death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Council members said they have received thousands of calls and emails from residents who want change.
“This generation is speaking out for a better future,” Brown said. “Let’s leave Columbus better than we found it.”
It’s still unclear what the legislation could specifically look like. When it comes to demilitarization, council members plan to destroy weapons that were identified in the Obama administration’s prohibited-weapons list, which included camouflage uniforms, grenade launchers and weapons of .50-caliber or higher.
“We don’t need grenade launchers,” Brown said.
Council also will review other items such as batons and flash-bang grenades, which were used against protesters recently.
Louisville’s Metro Council has banned the use of no-knock warrants, which allow police to not identify themselves before entering a home. That city’s action came after the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African American emergency room technician who was killed after officers burst into her home on a search warrant for drugs.
Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in bed when they heard a loud banging at the door. There was a short exchange and Walker fired his gun. Police fired a barrage of shots, and Taylor was killed after being hit at least eight times.
Councilman Mitchell Brown, a Public Safety director under former Mayor Michael B. Coleman, said he doesn’t know if the council can eliminate no-knock raids through legislation. “It’s on the table for us to look at,” he said.
As far as demilitarization, he said the city has to determine what police equipment is valuable and useful in an urban environment.
“We also have to keep in mind homeland security,” Brown said. “They can’t be not responsive to the fact that we still have potential extremist threats.”
He also pointed out that 90% of the police budget covers personnel in a growing city of about 900,000 that is the 14th largest in the U.S.
“It’s going to get bigger,” he said. “When you move into a community, the first thing you’re going to ask is, ’Is it safe?’”
Brown said he has spoken with police officials about council’s ideas.
“They are open-minded and receptive to making adjustments and changes,” he said.
Councilman Rob Dorans said not everyone believes every use of force should necessitate an independent investigation, but others think a full investigation is necessary for every instance of force.
Robin Davis, spokeswoman for Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, said Ginther has made clear that police reform is his top priority, and that he is very supportive of the proposals City Council raised to reimagine policing.
Ginther has repeatedly said he intends to create a civilian review board and hopes that police will be on board.
Nana Watson, president of the Columbus chapter of the NAACP, said her organization will review council’s proposals and provide feedback. Her group is pushing for a citizens review board with subpoena power.
Tynan Krakoff, an organizer for Showing Up for Racial Justice, said his group supports a hate-crime background check for officers but also wants checks to determine if they were ever fired from other departments.
Councilwoman Shayla Favor said real reform, not just “buzzy-type ideas,” takes time.
"We're talking about to some degree dismantling things that have been in place forever,“ she said. ”It doesn't mean you don't try."