Ginther: Thomas Quinlan is out as Columbus police chief

Joel Oliphint

Columbus Division of Police Chief Thomas Quinlan is out at the top spot. According to a press release issued today by Mayor Andrew Ginther, Deputy Chief Mike Woods will serve as interim chief.

“It became clear to me that Chief Quinlan could not successfully implement the reform and change I expect and that the community demands," Ginther said in a statement. "Columbus residents have lost faith in him and in Division’s ability to change on its own."

Quinlan was named chief in February of 2019 and formally selected at the end of the year. According to the Dispatch, "Quinlan was on a probationary period for the first year of his official tenure. That probationary period was set to expire in February."

While the move isn't a total surprise given 2020's record year for homicides (174), months of social unrest following racial justice protests and the mayor's persistent demand for transparency and accountability from Columbus police, it's also a short runway for a chief that was hired after an exhaustive and expensive national search. Apparently the mayor wasn't kidding about the probationary period.

Last March, we described that national search this way in our "Worst of Columbus" feature:

"For the first time ever, the city looked outside of the Columbus Division of Police to search for a new police chief. It wasn’t easy. The FOP and the city went to arbitration to change the job description allowing external candidates to apply. But after embattled former Chief Kim Jacobs retired, Mayor Ginther repeatedly said he wanted to hire a change agent. He touted the search advisory committee’s range of law enforcement and community leaders and the engagement of thousands of residents through public forums.

Nearly 40 people applied, and by the end of October 2019, the pool of applicants was narrowed to a group of five that included Interim Chief Thomas Quinlan. In November, only two candidates remained: Quinlan and Perry Tarrant, a former assistant chief for the Seattle Police Department. An insider and an outsider. An officer who joined Columbus police in 1989 and was in a position of power while the division came under fire for all manner of controversies, most recently the dissolution of a vice unit that was under investigation by the FBI. Or, a former assistant chief with experience working at police departments in two different states.

And whom did the city hire? The insider, of course."

For more on the current state of the city's relationship with the police and its union, Fraternal Order of Police Capital Lodge No. 9, read our recent feature, "The city and the FOP: A decades-old drama boils over."

Quinlan's prepared statement, via the Dispatch:

“The opportunity to serve as your Chief of Police has been the honor of my career.  While I very much hoped to continue in that role, I respect the Safety Director’s decision, and the community’s need to go in a different direction.  We accomplished a lot in my time as Chief.  We implemented dozens of reforms geared toward accountability, transparency, and strengthening public trust.  Someone else will now carry those priorities forward, and I will help and support them in any way I can. In my three decades of service to Columbus, my commitment has never been to any title or position.  It has been to this Division and this community I love.  That will not change.”

Mayor Ginther's full statement:

“It became clear to me that Chief Quinlan could not successfully implement the reform and change I expect and that the community demands. Columbus residents have lost faith in him and in Division’s ability to change on its own. Chief Quinlan understood. He agreed to step back, so the city can move forward. I appreciate Chief Quinlan’s service to the community and the changes he was able to implement in his time as chief.

Deputy Chief Mike Woods has agreed to serve as interim chief while we begin our national search for a permanent chief. The search firm Ralph Andersen & Associates will again assist the city in identifying a permanent police chief on an expedited timeframe.

I want to assure Columbus residents that our commitment to change and reform will not wane as we seek the next leader of the Division of Police. In the coming weeks, I will appoint members of the Civilian Review Board that I championed and voters overwhelmingly approved in November. The Board will select an Inspector General, and we will gain civilian oversight of police for the first time in our city’s history. My proposed 2021 budget invests in non-police safety initiatives, including significant increases to mental health, addiction and recovery services and public health and social workers better positioned respond to people in crisis. The City will also invest in next generation body-worn cameras to ensure video and audio evidence is available when needed most.

I remain committed to meaningful, lasting police reform and confronting racism where it exists, advancing social justice so everyone in every neighborhood feels safe.”

Former Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan