Groups, city discuss ways of improving police-community relations

CHRIS BOURNEA
ThisWeekNEWS.com

Since the late spring, a national dialogue on police-community relations has been taking place, and the city of Bexley continued the dialogue on a local level with the second in a series of virtual town-hall meetings.

The city presented the event Sept. 17 with the Bexley Minority Parents Alliance.

During the event, representatives from organizations that formed this year gave updates on the work they have been doing to promote awareness about racial-justice issues. Representatives of the Bexley Anti-Racism Project; the Bexley Minority Alumni Association; Bexley Residents Against Institutional Racism; the Bexley LGBTQUIA Family Ally Task Force; and Bexley Diversity, Equity and Inclusion participated.

Bexley City Hall

Mayor Ben Kessler, police Chief Larry Rinehart and Bexley City Council members Monique Lampke, Matt Klingler and Jen Robinson also took part, discussing continuing efforts to increase transparency and to ensure people, especially African Americans, are treated with equity when interacting with the police department.

Kessler said anyone who is dissatisfied with interactions with Bexley police or any other city department should file a formal complaint with the city.

“If you look at the complaint stats ... we’ve had very few formal complaints,” Kessler said. “We do feel it is important to get complaints that are formal so that we can go through a full investigation process.”

Kessler said in recent months the city has streamlined the process for filing complaints by making a form available online, hiring two complaint liaisons to assist residents with the filing process and forming a citizen-review advisory board to investigate complaints about unlawful discrimination or bias by police and other city employees. He said the city also recently released a community-policing report with statistics about police operations and policies.

Rinehart said one of the report’s main objectives is to provide the community with data to dispel rumors about how Bexley police enforce the law, especially when it comes to African Americans and other minority groups.

“I understand there’s some parts of our community that think we’re not unbiased and they question who we write tickets to and the cars that we stop, the drivers that we stop,” Rinehart said. “And that is why we’re looking, we’re researching static traffic cameras, speed cameras that do that work without any officer interaction. ... We’re committed to a nonbiased environment for our residents.”

Earlier this month, the city and the Bexley Minority Parents Alliance also kicked off a series of “listening sessions” in which residents can meet face to face with police officers and air their concerns.

“We wanted to make certain that when people come to these sessions, they feel comfortable. They don’t feel that they’re going to be grilled by the officers about a specific situation,” said BMPA president Bryan Drewry, who also is a member of the city’s citizen-review advisory board. “We wanted to develop a program that would allow the people to listen and be heard.”

Kessler said another initiative the city has undertaken is offering public defenders and waiving fines and fees for Bexley Mayor’s Court defendants who meet a certain income threshold. Mayor’s court serves as the city’s judicial branch and violations bureau, collecting payments for traffic tickets and other violations that do not require a court appearance.

The city allows defendants who demonstrate an inability to pay fines to perform community service instead, Kessler said.

“The reality is that there is a circular imprisonment of debt with indigent defendants who can’t pay for court fees or costs and end up trapped by a cycle of inability to get a license, inability to pay bench warrants,” he said. “We are doing everything we can on our part to make sure that we’re not perpetuating that environment in Bexley.”

To access the community-policing report and for information on how to participate in upcoming listening sessions with the Bexley Police Department, go to bexley.org.