COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Across the nation, including right here in central Ohio, relationships between people and police are tense.
Columbus police have worked to curb those tensions through several public meetings where community members to talk one-on-one with an officer about their concerns, to create discussion and lead to more understanding between the public and cops. Thursday night was the fifth and final meeting planned for the year.
90-year-old Geneva Jackson and her 10-year-old great, great, great grandson George Bender Jr., stumbled upon tonight’s event at the Driving Park Community Center.
“I didn’t know there was going to be this meeting. I brought him to basketball practice,” she said.
Instead of shooting hoops tonight, the gym was filled with police officers wanting to have discussions with people in the community.
Jackson, George’s legal guardian, encouraged him to talk with a cop.
“Then he won’t be afraid,” she said. “He will see them as another human being.”
And after tonight, George decided he might want to become a police officer.
“They save lives,” he said. “They help others and they protect our community.”
Officers said turnout for the events has been disappointing, but still productive. Connections like the ones George make with Columbus police are what the officers were aiming to do since the first meeting was held in July.
“I think it’s just imperative that we really get a good understand of one another,” said Deputy Chief Tim Becker. “That’s what community policing is all about.”
But, he said there’s still a big chunk of people they haven’t been able to reach yet.
“When we see demonstrations of large groups out there that are unhappy with things… this is the whole reason for the meetings so we can talk and when we get a low turnout, that’s disappointing,” said Deputy Chief Becker.
Chief Kim Jacobs said they encourage peaceful protest, but also want to build relationships with the public.
“Can we come to you and bring some of our officers and just to sit down and talk for a while?” she said. “Generally you’re going to learn a lot more if you sit down and have some dialogue and that’s what this is intended to create.”
She said she wants more people to come out to these events.
“Our attendance is not what we would like, so how can we make that better? I’m willing to listen to those answers,” said Chief Jacobs.
Police spokeswoman Denise Alex-Bouzounis said all concerns, complaints and compliments from these meetings will be discussed by executive administration and then put into action.
She said Columbus Police holds several meetings like this each year and expects it to start back up again in the summer.