Data: Policing remains Columbus' largest expense in 2021 budget
Illustration by Marisa Twigg

Data: Policing remains Columbus' largest expense in 2021 budget

At nearly $337 million, police funding is still the largest share of Columbus' expense budget, but money budgeted elsewhere for police activities pushes that number up even higher.

To download a full copy of the 2021 Columbus budget, click here. (Note: Document is 80MB and may take time to download)

In 2020, Columbus had more budget uncertainty than any year since the Great Recession of 2008, starting with the uncertainty of income tax revenue streams that fund city services and the unpredictability of Congress’ willingness to help cities through the challenges of the pandemic. Then, the City saw a summer of protests with activists calling for officials to completely overhaul Columbus’ largest budget item, public safety, by changing its fundamental policing philosophy by redirecting more resources to human services.

In 2021, police funding remains the largest portion of the city’s expense budget at nearly $337 million — down from $361 million in 2020 — irritating some activists and organizers who wish to see that money directed even more toward other community needs.

“We can’t continue to put money into the police budget when people don’t even have a place to stay or the basic necessities needed to survive,” said Hana Abdur-Rahim, lead organizer for the Black Abolitionist Collective of Ohio (BACO).

Spending categories such as public health, technology and neighborhoods did get an injection of additional funds in an effort to “reduce the burden on police” and create a “holistic approach to public safety,” according to Mayor Ginther.

But there’s more than meets the eye in this year’s budget — at least $17 million in police activities have been budgeted in other spending categories.

Here’s the breakdown on the Columbus Division of Police 2021 budget.

The Columbus Division of Police 2021 Budget

What is the $337 million police budget spent on?

Personnel account for 91 percent of the budget. The 2,200 people employed by CPD are projected to cost $308,214,363 during 2021 — down by about $25 million. Salaries for uniformed officers range from $22 to $57 per hour and are based on rank per the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 9 contract for sworn officers.

The officers and other non-sworn staff are assigned to the following bureaus:

Material and supplies are budgeted at exactly the same number for 2021 as for 2020: $4,742,414. The breakdown is:

Services are budgeted at $14,930,082 which is $1 million more than was spent in 2020.

The services category includes:

At least $16M in police activities are budgeted in other spending categories

One of the biggest changes decided during 2020 was moving $14,843,570 to pay 181 civilian staff from the Division of Police to the Department of Public Safety budget. These human resources, fiscal and 911 emergency communications personnel will continue to service policing activities while being paid through a different budget.

The budget for the Technology department for 2021 includes software to help the Division of Police manage its detective case load and monitor for officer trauma. Requests for proposals for these programs have gone out totaling $550,000, according to Christopher Long, a deputy director in the Department of Finance and Management.

The hardest budget item to find is for the liability claims paid out by the city for police brutality, loss of life and damage to property. A line item in the police budget titled “Other” holds $223,000 worth of those claims and also includes the attorney fees for defending the city against these claims.

But a look back at actual claims payments for the last ten years shows an average of nearly $600,000 paid out per year. In the last two years, it has averaged nearly $700,000, according to a claims document obtained by Matter through a public records request. The excess claims are funded through a nondescript budget line called “Citywide accounts” — which also holds economic development incentive money — located in the Department of Finance and Management programs budget, according to Amber Epling, director of communications for the city auditor’s office.

The bill for 2021 could be much larger with several lawsuits pending from officers experiencing discrimination, citizens victimized by police brutality, the family of Donna Dalton who is set to receive a $1 million settlement, and the family of Andre Hill, killed by a Columbus police officer in December 2020.

Also budgeted in the Department of Finance and Management is the $1 million expense for the new Civilian Review Board and paid Inspector General, according to Robin Davis, a spokesperson for the Mayor's office.

The ballpark sum of these large ticket items that are definitely for the purpose of policing but are not included in the police budget is at least $17 million.

How are reforms being budgeted?

City Council President Shannon Hardin announced during the February 22 City Council meeting that Council was voting on an amendment to allocate $10 million to reimagine safety.

“We need to fight for both justice and safety, and that’s not always easy, especially when trust has been so shaken and violence is creating fear for too many families,” Hardin said. “This is a start to build a comprehensive, research-based, system of response…and expands on what we already do well.”

The $10 million — which isn’t currently reflected in the 2021 budget — will be used for equipment, neighborhood anti-violence teams and training for officers to comply with Andre’s Law so they will be ready with first aid in life-threatening situations, among other initiatives. Hardin also said there is still more work to do with diversifying the police academy staff, including diversity and bias training for recruits, ongoing training for veteran officers and hiring a new chief.

Abdur-Rahim, the BACO organizer, disagreed with the reform investment.

“There is no such thing as reimagining policing. There is such a thing as reimagining a world where we are treated equitably and we have resources and our needs met,” she said.

Of those needs, many Columbus residents have said that their neighborhoods deserve a better response from the city toward gun violence.

The Public Health department budget, which increased from $36.1M to $41.7M this year, includes funding for addressing gun violence through CARE (Community, Action, Resilience, Empowerment), a coalition of mental health, medical, social work and government agencies that provide comprehensive services to families and neighborhoods experiencing trauma. There is also a new pilot initiative to pair 20 social workers with police to respond to mental health crisis calls.

The ShotSpotter program is also getting a budget boost in an attempt to address gun violence. Implemented in 2019 across nine square miles of Columbus, ShotSpotters are microphones installed in neighborhoods that triangulate the location of gun shots. Exactly $825,000 are budgeted to support existing microphones and expand the program to the Near East Side.

Some reforms years in the making are still waiting for funding

Mayor Ginther’s letter that introduces the budget promises that the Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy is fully funded and that there is “funding for continued implementation” of recommendations from the Community Safety Advisory Commission and the Matrix Report.

It is true that some responsibility for the Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy is spread throughout the city budget. The Neighborhoods department budget, which increased from $6.1 million to $8.4 million for 2021, includes safety investments such as alley cleanups, more sidewalks and street lighting, and neighborhood safety committees. And as previously mentioned, $1 million is slated for the Columbus Civilian Review Board and inspector general.

But not all recommendations have been funded as Ginther’s opening letter suggests.

Long, the deputy director for the Department of Finance and Management, clarified the mayor’s remark in an email to Matter. He wrote:

“It does not mean that every recommendation from the Safety Advisory Commission or the Matrix report has been funded. Some recommendations must be negotiated. Some are outside of the city’s [purview]. We have to balance the cost of these recommendations with other city needs, as well.”

Earlier this year, Matter began an investigation into the reform recommendations developed by the Mayor’s Safety Advisory Commission and the consultant Matrix Corporation. A public dashboard launched by the Division of Police was reporting the status of each recommendation, sometimes inaccurately.

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Of the 39 recommendations in the Matrix Report waiting for funding, most involve accurate financial tracking, increased civilian and sworn staff, and more efficient assignment of detective cases.

There are also several recommendations to increase staffing for patrol officers and reassign them to zones where workload is the greatest. Since the Personnel Summary in the budget shows 1,963 uniformed police during 2020 and 1,969 uniformed police budgeted for in 2021, it does not appear that the division can meet the staffing recommendations in the Matrix report with this budget.

Two other recommendations involve financial incentives for officers to live in the city of Columbus and submit to an annual wellness exam. Both incentives will require changes to the union contract before they can be funded.

Some Matrix Report reforms did receive some funding this year. The report called for the adoption of an Early Warning/Intervention Program for officers, and the 2021 Technology budget included a software program designed to flag issues that impact officer wellness like frequent exposure to traumatic crime scenes, according to Commander Dave Hughes of the Wellness Bureau. Deputy Chief Timothy Becker is hopeful that a new case tracking software will begin to address case-tracking and assignment problems identified in the report by Spring of 2022. Both of these initiatives are part of the $550,000 in request for proposals in the Technology budget.

Projecting the future of Columbus’ police reform

In his letter to the mayor introducing the proposed 2021 budget, Joseph Lombardi, director of the Department of Finance and Management, stated, “This budget was also prepared in the context of nationwide calls for social change, racial justice, and police reform.”

Lombardi provides a look into Columbus’ financial future through a projected operating statement through 2030. The overall expenses are projected to increase at a nearly constant 2% against a projected increase in revenue of roughly 2.7% per year. Each city department shares equally in that increase.

While activists rally around a call for defunding the police, city financial managers continue to rely on standard budgeting strategies that, according to those activists, maintain the status quo for policing by projecting the same increase in policing expenses as human services within the budget.

“They have not met our demands or what we have been asking for since the deaths of Kawme Patrick, Henry Green and Tyre King, back to back,” Abdur-Rahim, the BACO organizer, said. “We have been asking for divestment in the police force and they continue to increase their budget or approve new weapons to terrorize us with. I can’t say that I’m disappointed anymore. At this point I expect them to do the opposite of what we’ve been asking.”

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