Mayor Ginther: Police, community relations have never been more complicated

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A number of high-profile incidents involving the Columbus Division of Police and young black men have stirred emotions and triggered protests and several internal investigations.

In April, a cell phone video captured an officer stopping a suspect who was on the ground. The officer in that case was fired, but the police union is appealing the decision.

Then, earlier this month, the violent arrest of suspect Timothy Davis has raised questions about use of force by police officers. One officer was suspended after the incident for using language during the arrest that Chief of Police Kim Jacobs called appalling.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther spoke with NBC4’s Colleen Marshall at the Columbus Metropolitan Club about the recent high-profile incidents and what the city is doing to repair police-community relations and address the rising homicide rate.

“We know police and community relations, not just in Columbus but around the country, have never been more complicated and complex,” Ginther said. “Relationships are strained. Trust is shaken. At the same time, we know it has never been more dangerous to be a law enforcement officer in America.”

Ginther highlighted steps the City of Columbus has taken to help repair the relationship between citizens and police officers, including training, revamping the community safety initiative program and increasing the number of patrol officers on bicycles.

“That showed great results building positive community relationships,” Ginther said.

The mayor also said there is still a lot of work to be done.

“We need to hold our selves accountable and be responsive to the community,” he said. “We need to make sure our officers have personal relationships with those in the neighborhoods they serve.”

Many have criticized Columbus Police and the City of Columbus when it comes to racial issues, but Ginther believes that criticism is unfounded.

“I think there is no evidence to support that there is a pervasive problem within the Columbus Division of Police,” he said. “Thousands of police officers, outstanding men and women, they serve the community honorably. They went into law enforcement to protect and serve the people of Columbus.”

Ginther also said that officers have an incredible level of power, and that type of power demands that officers be transparent, accountable and responsive.

“That’s why body-worn cameras and dash cameras have been such a high priority,” Ginther said. “It improves safety on both sides of the camera in every place where they have it implemented.”

Ginther said about 300 body cameras have been deployed. He expects that number to be at 1,300 by the end of 2018.

Ginther has been facing his own difficulties with the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP voted no confidence in Ginther and two other city officials last month. Ginther seemed unfazed by the vote.

“I answer to the people of Columbus. The people of Columbus expect results,” he said. “They expect me to work with folks that I agree with and that I do not agree with to get things done.”

Aside from tensions between citizens and police, the city is also seeing an increase in murders. As of Sept. 23, there have been 97 murders in city limits this year alone, compared to 67 murders at this time last year. Ginther said there has also been spike in double homicides and a jump in homicides that stem from domestic violence incidents.

“Collectively as a community we have to come together and realize the fact that we have a lot of young people in the community who are resolving disputes or rival gangs and drug activity that are using fire arms and young men are dying at an alarming rate,” he said.

Ginther said community programs are a crucial part of getting the homicide rate down. He cited several city initiatives, including the violence reduction initiative starting this fall.

“We do an intervention with young people, particularly young men who have been involved in minor, lower-level crime, but certainly look to be on the trajectory of more violent and illegal behavior,” Ginther explained. He said the initiative will provide opportunities around workforce development, training, social services, mental health and addiction or substance abuse counseling.

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