The Columbus police chief's big challenge
Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs is fond of the two lions flanking the steps that lead to the Columbus Division of Police headquarters Downtown. She's a Leo, an astrological sign that also happens to be the acronym for Law Enforcement Officer, and in her spacious eighth floor office, two framed images of lions adorn her walls. She points to one above her credenza.
“That one is called ‘The Warrior Queen,'” said Jacobs, seated in uniform at the head of a long table next to a wall of windows that provides a scenic view of a city she instinctively divides into zones.
Years ago, Jacobs received a greeting card from her mother that described the various meanings of her name; in Welsh, “Kim” can signify “leader” or “chief of war.” Jacobs saved the card, and eventually her rank matched her moniker. In 2012, after rising from a Franklinton patrol officer in 1979 to a deputy chief in 2009, Mayor Michael Coleman promoted Jacobs to the police division's top spot, making her the first woman to lead Columbus' police force.
Running the police department of a major city is never easy, but the job has become more complex ever since riots erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the summer of 2014. Communities across the country have rallied under the Black Lives Matter banner, loudly decrying the killing of African-Americans at the hands of police.
While Columbus hasn't seen riots similar to those in Minneapolis or Charlotte, a series of high-profile incidents involving police has triggered local protests at City Hall. In June of 2016, two police officers in civilian clothes shot and killed 23-year-old Henry Green, a black man police say opened fire on them. In September of 2016, an officer shot and killed Ty're King, a black 13-year-old who was in possession of a non-working BB gun. Grand juries did not indict officers in either shooting.
Then in April, a citizen captured video of Officer Zachary Rosen, who was also one of the officers who shot Green, stomping the head of Demarko Anderson, who was handcuffed on the ground. And in September, after Timothy Davis was taken into custody, body camera video captured Officer Joseph Bogard remarking to a fellow officer that he would have “choke[d] the life out of” Davis.
According to a recent report by the Associated Press, there are currently 26 pending lawsuits against Columbus police.
In September, protesters from groups such as the People's Justice Project and Showing Up for Racial Justice took over a City Council meeting for more than two hours and delivered a list of demands, including a call for Mayor Andrew Ginther and Public Safety Director Ned Pettus to terminate Jacobs.
In separate interviews, Ginther and Pettus, to whom Jacobs reports, expressed confidence in the chief's ability to lead. “Being a police chief in a big city in America today is probably one of the most challenging roles in the community,” Ginther said.
While city leaders express support of Jacobs, members of the local police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 9 (FOP), have been publicly critical of Jacobs' bosses, going so far as to cast a no-confidence vote against Ginther, Pettus and City Council President Zach Klein in August.
“When you start to mix politics and policing, those are dangerous roads and I don't like them,” said FOP President Jason Pappas, who described the mayor's early statements regarding video of the Officer Rosen stomping incident as a “gross miscarriage of due process rights.” (In an April statement, Ginther described the behavior he witnessed on video as “unacceptable and inconsistent with our values as a community.”) “You hire the chief to run the division. Period. And that includes discipline and policy.”
The union is currently in contract negotiations with the city, and the strained relationship between city leaders and the FOP — with Jacobs caught in the middle — mirrors the delicate status of community-police relations in Columbus.
“There's probably never been a more dangerous time to be a police officer in America, and if you listen to our African-American and Latino neighbors, they feel like it's never been a more dangerous time to interact with law enforcement,” Ginther said.
Sgt. James Fuqua is the police department's Diversity Inclusion Liaison, and he said in his 13 years with the Columbus Division of Police, the past two years have been the most difficult.
“Back in 2007 and 2008, this tension amongst the public and the police was not here,” Fuqua said. “It's very polarizing. There is no middle ground right now.”
Citizen complaints are nothing new to Jacobs, who spent nearly four years answering the division's complaint line for eight hours a day, five days a week. “It shaped my career,” said Jacobs, 60, in a series of interviews that took place beginning in late September. “You understand better what upsets people. The phone rings predominantly because people don't understand what happened or why, not so much because the officer was rude or did something [wrong]. Theythink it might be wrong, and they need clarification. Eighty to 90 percent of the time we're able to give them an explanation.”
According to division records, the number of complaints coming into CPD has declined in the past 10 years. Last year, the division logged 318 complaints from citizens — fewer than half the 808 complaints the department tallied in 2007.
Early on in her policing career, after being encouraged to pursue law enforcement by a highway patrolman at her local Pizza Hut in Ashland, Ohio, Jacobs learned the importance of communication. Female police officers were rare when Jacobs graduated from the police academy in 1979. Though she was adept at wielding an aluminum baton and was also athletic, having been a hurdler at Ohio State alongside former teammate and four-time U.S. Champion Stephanie Hightower, Jacobs most often employed interpersonal strategies to convince suspects to comply.
“Women and others have proven you don't have to fight with people,” Jacobs said. “You can use communication tools to accomplish the same things.”
But Jacobs said there is a knowledge gap between what people think the police can or should do and what officers are allowed to do, and she makes no apologies for using force when necessary, as long as it complies with the law of the land and the division's policies. “We've said for many years that the use of force is ugly. We try to avoid it,” she said. “But policing is a dangerous job.”
In the '70s and '80s, Jacobs said Columbus police officers hit people with their batons on a regular basis, but that's no longer the case. Last year, the division logged five strikes with a weapon. More common is the use of Mace (179 times in 2016), use of Taser (144 times) and a strike with hands or feet (91 times).
Jacobs is aware that some Columbus residents are fearful of the police, but she argues that the easiest way to resolve a situation with police is to comply. “When you fight us, first of all you're committing a crime, and if it turns into an assault, you're committing a felony,” she said. “It's much easier to just go along with the program and then use the justice system to resolve any issue that you have.”
To some, though, it's not quite so cut and dried. “How are you supposed to have your day in court when you're dead?” said Jasmine Ayres, a City Council candidate running on the progressive Yes We Can ticket. “If you're dead, you can't hire a lawyer to defend yourself.”
From 2003 to 2016, Columbus Police shootings ranged from a high of 21 in 2008 and 2012 to a low of nine in 2003 and 2014. Fatalities by police during the same period hit a low of one in 2005 and a high of eight in 2011. Last year, CPD tracked 15 shootings and six fatalities.
“Over and over again, officers confront people with weapons and they don't shoot them,” Jacobs said. “When we recover more than 2,000 guns every year from people, that tells you that we're de-escalating situations.” (CPD's Public Records Unit was unable to produce data for guns recovered in 2016.)
Lawyers Sean Walton and Chanda Brown represent the families of Henry Green and Ty're King, as well as 15 to 20 other cases related to alleged police misconduct, through their firm, Walton + Brown, and they are not impressed by CPD's statistics. “To have 15 shootings by officers for our population is, percentage-wise, higher than most other cities larger than Columbus,” Walton said.
According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, a database co-founded by data scientist and racial justice activist Samuel Sinyangwe, Columbus ranks 14th in the nation for police killings from the period of January 2013 to June of 2017.
Walton, Brown, protesters and others in the community have repeatedly called for independent investigations of police shootings. “The community has asked every time this comes up: ‘Can we bring in an outside agency?'” Brown said. “When there's a semblance of bias, you bring in someone else and let them do it. But it's never been done. Columbus Police always investigates their own shootings.”
Jacobs counters critics' arguments by touting her division's expertise and noting that police-involved shootings, along with Internal Affairs investigations, are public records and scrupulously documented. “You have the opportunity to read everything we do,” she said.
Sgt. Fuqua said he has gone back and forth on the idea of bringing in outside agencies. “What if it was someone in my family who was hurt or injured by an officer and I feel like it was unjust? How would I feel about that if I didn't trust the internal process?” he said. “But I'm not sure if that's the answer. … And we collectively bargain, so that would be something that the union would have to agree to with the city, which, to be honest, would probably not happen in my lifetime. … We don't do a very good job of explaining to the public sometimes why we can't do some of these things.”
Also among protesters' list of demands for CPD is a call for more rigorous training of Columbus police officers, including Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, de-escalation tactics and racial/implicit bias training.
Jacobs said de-escalation tactics are taught to recruits from day one, and every year, officers across the division receive scenario-based training that includes de-escalation tactics. As of Oct. 25, out of the 1,861 people in the division, CPD has 332 active CIT officers, or about 18 percent of the total personnel. Jacobs also said that every graduating class of new recruits undergoes CIT training, and Director Pettus noted that additional officers are being trained at the rate of 100 per year.
Bias training also occurs annually. “You might think you're not a racist, but you might not recognize it internally when you see someone of a different race or gender that you treat them differently,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs is no stranger to discrimination inside the department. When she joined the force, some officers didn't want to work with her. “One officer came out and said, ‘I don't think women can do this job,'” she said. In 2004, Jacobs and her husband of 20 years divorced, and the next year she began dating a woman, Bobbi Bedinghaus, now her partner of 12 years. But Jacobs said her rank spared her any discriminatory comments regarding her same-sex relationship. “People wouldn't say things to my face,” she said.
Sgt. Fuqua said the department still has work to do. “We do have some issues we need to fix internally in terms of race equality and gender equality,” Fuqua said. “I think everyone recognizes that to a degree.”
Fuqua said most officer recruits sign up because they want to help people. “So how do we get from that academy state of mind of wanting to help people to the three- to five-year veteran on the street who, all of a sudden, they don't want to help people because of their race or their religion or their background?” he said. “They start to fall into this trap of believing that everybody out here is bad or selling drugs because they look a certain way.”
Fred Gittes, the lead counsel on a team that represented two black Columbus police officers in a case involving a sergeant accused of using racial slurs and threatening to kill the two officers, said a color line is still present at CPD. “The department doesn't seem to care about discrimination,” he said.
Dr. Chenelle Jones, who teaches criminology and criminal justice at Ohio Dominican University, has a more sympathetic critique. “Nationally, in terms of training, [CPD] is one of the better-trained departments,” Jones said. “But I think they could do a better job of helping officers address and deal with biases so they don't manifest while they're out on the street.”
There are 188 African-American officers and 188 female officers in the department — each representing about 10 percent of the police force; of the African-American officers, 28 are ranked sergeant or higher. “[CPD] has been actively working to recruit more applicants of color … [but] a vast majority of their officers are white male,” said Jones, who sits on the diversity recruiting council for the division. “It's really difficult for somebody of one race to understand another race. It's reallyeasy for somebody of one race to bring in their biases of another race into the job.”
Mayor Ginther has suggested CPD double the number of black and female police officers in the next 10 years. “When the mayor says something like that, it's not just a wish list. He wants us to get it done,” Jacobs said. “Getting it done will be very difficult.”
To help with recruitment of minorities, council candidate Ayres suggested changes to the Civil Service Exam. “The state took away our right to say a certain percentage of the police force has to live in the city. You can't do that anymore. But you can do other things,” Ayres said. “We could give extra points on the Civil Service Exam if you live in the City of Columbus. More black people live in the city.”
Jacobs said she is open to changes involving the Civil Service Exam and other creative recruitment initiatives as long as they pass legal muster. “What we're doing isn't working,” she said, “and you shouldn't do the same thing over and over again if it's not working.”
Fuqua first considered becoming a cop after getting to know a black police officer, and he suggested using “people who look like me” to recruit more officers. But diversity, he said, isn't just about race. It's about culture.
“If you get an officer who grew up on a farm in a very rural area and had the same set of friends, same church, the same everything, and everyone in that area looks like them, talks like them and acts like them,” Fuqua said, “then you take this officer and put them in the middle of Mt. Vernon [Avenue] and 20th [Street], you [can't] expect them to culturally understand why [residents] dress the way they do or act the way they do or speak the way they do. We have to do a better job of training that person. … Culture is a huge reason for the disconnect between the police and the public, and police internally with each other.”
“We give our officers such an incredible amount of power,” Ginther said. “With that sacred responsibility and trust that we place in them, there's an incredible amount of obligation [to] maintain that trust.”
The mayor's goal is a police force that is transparent, accountable and responsive. Jacobs wants the same thing, and so does the community. The disagreements arise over whether those benchmarks are being met, and if they're not, how to improve.
The mayor has emphasized body-worn cameras as one path to transparency and accountability. “Body-worn cameras are a high priority for me, and [Jacobs] has been so supportive,” Ginther said. “I'm proud that we're at 300 cameras right now, and we'll be at 1,300 by the end of next year.”
But certain incidents have obscured the division's claims of transparency. Jones cited the FOP's support of Zachary Rosen, who was fired by Director Pettus after Jacobs recommended a 24 work-hour suspension, as one example. “You had the FOP sending out memos to their officers saying, ‘We stand with this guy.' You had them on the news saying, ‘He didn't stomp on his head. He tapped his foot on his shoulder,' when clearly the video shows he's stomping this guy on the head,” Jones said. “Those things hurt community relations. That destroys trust.”
FOP President Pappas has continued to voice support for Rosen, whom he thinks should be reinstated. And in an October press release, Pappas referred to a group of protesters who showed up to a FOP meeting as “paid agitators.” When asked about the comment, Pappas said he received the information from a confidential source. “We have intelligence reports that some of these people were from out of state and are paid protesters who were here to be disruptive,” he said. “They're not local community members.”
Fuqua said the Rosen case is “the most divisive case that we have had since I've been on the department.”
And yet, on all sides of every police issue, everyone seems to agree that regular engagement with police in a non-enforcement setting will help community-police relations in Columbus.
“The only way to develop relationships and to build trust in the community is to have boots on the ground and for people to know one another,” Pappas said.
Over the summer, Commander Jen Knight implemented a pilot program in North Linden called Safe Streets. She wanted to reduce violent crime in the summer months, but she also wanted more open communication with North Linden residents.
“We wanted to look at enforcement in a different way,” Knight said. “Police officers normally go into a neighborhood and say, ‘I know that's a drug house, so I'm gonna go deal with that problem.' What we wanted to do was 50 percent enforcement and 50 percent community interaction every single day, and we wanted our enforcement to be a result of the community interaction.”
Knight established a Safe Streets email account and an anonymous phone line for tips, and 12 bike officers and one sergeant were re-shuffled to work solely on the program for 120 days.
Initially, residents were apprehensive and wondered if Safe Streets would merely be another version of the controversial Community Safety Initiative. “Because of past initiatives and the way they were done — the jump-out boys — [it made it seem like] the police were kind of out to get you,” said Jennifer Adair, head of the North Linden Area Commission. “We've had police shootings in our neighborhood. I think that's one of the things people were wary about at the beginning of this. They did not want more police-involved violence in our community.”
But Knight set the program apart by making sure all officers were in uniform, not plain clothes, and on bikes, not in cruisers. “It's easier for citizens to approach an officer on a bike than an officer in a cruiser,” Knight said. “We said, ‘This is going to be different than what you're used to. You're not gonna be going out there and jumping and grabbing people.'”
When Safe Streets got underway, residents began approaching officers. “Every single thing we worked on was the result of a complaint or concern by a citizen,” Knight said. “Officers would do everything from handling drug activity around specific locations, to arresting individuals who'd committed violent crime in the area, to going into somebody's house because they were having problems with their young children and they were concerned about their safety.”
“It gained the community's trust,” Adair said. “The community feels they can trust the officers who we saw on a daily basis on their bikes talking, interacting. They were more willing to share information.”
Those interactions and information led to a 55 percent decrease in gun-related violence compared to the same period in 2016, and it also led to the closing of a carry-out that had been a haven for crime in the neighborhood.
“Officers want to make these connections,” Knight said. “‘Community policing' is a catch phrase that everyone likes to use. But this is an example of how you intertwine enforcement and community relations. That's really what community policing should be.”
At the end of September, Safe Streets halted. Knight said CPD doesn't have enough officers to make the initiative permanent. And there are other pressing, citywide issues — the opioid crisis, a 2017 homicide count that stood at 111 as of Nov.1, plus everyday 911 calls. But Knight wants to do Safe Streets again and maybe try something similar in other neighborhoods. Jacobs said the program is replicable but would require time and money. Ginther hopes to expand it, too. But perhaps most importantly, North Linden residents want the police officers back in their neighborhood.
“It's a systemic neighborhood issue, the way the police are viewed, and some of it is justified,” Adair said. “But it's gonna take the community and the police being able to take a step back and say, ‘We want something different. We want a change.'”