Reynoldsburg City Council approves creation of police review board

Kelley Youman
ThisWeek
Reynoldsburg City Hall

Reynoldsburg City Council voted 6-1 Oct. 12 to establish an independent, volunteer board to review accusations of discrimination by Reynoldsburg police officers.  

The review board will meet publicly to hold hearings on complaints, which would be heard after an internal investigation by the police department. 

Under the legislation, the review board will have the power to receive, cause investigation of and recommend resolutions for any filed complaints alleging discriminatory conduct by officers and non-sworn employees of the Reynoldsburg Division of Police, regardless of their duty status, when such conduct is directed toward any person who is not a Division of Police employee. 

Discriminatory conduct is defined in the proposed ordinance as discrimination or bias directed toward any person on the basis of that person's race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin, disability, ancestry, familial status or military status. 

Barth Cotner cast the dissenting vote. He said rather than passing the responsibility to a civilian board, members of council should be held accountable. 

“Council has an obligation to make sure our officers are acting appropriately … to put a civilian review board as an obstacle for our officers serving is not something I can support,” he said. “It doesn’t maintain powers that are overreaching, but I still feel like this is a step away from what we should do and what our officers should be getting from us.”  

The legislation calls for nine board members will serve two-year terms; one each from the city's four wards, and another five will be nominated by the mayor. At least one of the nine must be a practicing attorney, one must have a law-enforcement background and at least two must be minorities. The four ward representatives will be nominated by their respective council member. 

The city has not set a timeline for seating the board, but the legislation takes effect in 30 days. 

The board will discuss the alleged incident and the evidence – including body-camera footage, interviews and police policies – in executive session. That would be followed by a public vote to decide complaints through one of six outcomes: sustained, sustained in part, sustained for a violation not based on original complaint, exonerated, unfounded and insufficient evidence. 

A majority vote of the board would be required to determine the outcome, according to the draft legislation. 

The review board will not make recommendations about possible discipline if the allegations are sustained; instead, a summary report would detail why the board voted as it did and why that choice might differ from what the police department found. The review board also will indicate whether the matter was referred to the police chief or mayor. 

City Attorney Chris Shook said the proposed legislation originally included language that would have given the review board the ability to investigate complaints about use of force, but in consultation with other community law directors and the police union, the scope of the board's duties was narrowed to stay consistent with the contract between Reynoldsburg and the Fraternal Order of Police. 

The city worked on the ordinance alongside the FOP Capital City Lodge No. 9, which represents Reynoldsburg officers, said Keith Ferrell, FOP president. 

“Working together and having that good dialogue, we were able to come up with something,” Ferrell said. “Hopefully we can all move forward together.”  

City leaders have said creating a civilian review board is not a response to any specific concerns or current allegations of discrimination by the police department. 

“We have tremendous amount of faith in their ability or their service to the community,” Shook said. “We needed our officers to know that this is not directed at them. Our hope is that we will have a civilian review board that has very little to do.” 

Councilwoman Kristin Bryant said she views the board as a “opportunity rather than an obstacle.”  

“By and large, we have a fantastic law enforcement agency here in Reynoldsburg but things do happen sometimes,” she said. “It gives (the public) and opportunity to bring that to the attention to the officer that maybe as white men and women we don’t always see things that happen. I like to think of this as a teaching opportunity … but ultimately this is transparency and it allows a feeling of comfort when there’s transparency.” 

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