Columbus Council passes police reforms spurred by 2020 protests

City Council passed an ordinance barring Columbus police from using tear gas and similar tactics on nonviolent protests and an ordinance requiring Columbus officers to be identifiable at all times.
City Council President Shannon Hardin thanks the other councilmembers after two police reform ordinances passed.
City Council President Shannon Hardin thanks the other councilmembers after two police reform ordinances passed. City of Columbus

There will be changes to how Columbus Police Officers present themselves to citizens and the equipment and tactics they use after Monday’s City Council meeting. Sponsored by President Pro Tempore Elizabeth Brown, Ordinance 1440-2022 was passed alongside Ordinance 1455-2022, sponsored by Council member Rob Dorans.

Ordinance 1440-2022 codifies the permanent injunction made by Judge Algenon L. Marbley in Alsaada v. Columbus. Plaintiffs in the case sued the city for how Columbus police officers treated protestors during 2020 protests following the murder of George Floyd. Judge Algenon Marbley first granted an injunction that “bars officers from using non-lethal force including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, wooden pellets, and more on nonviolent protesters,” according to a press release from District Attorney Zach Klein in 2021. A settlement was reached in the case and approved by city council. The city agreed to a permanent injunction and a payment of $5.75 million to plaintiffs.

“The ordinance today restricts the use of equipment such as chemical agents, helicopters, explosives and pyrotechnics in order to avoid their misuse or overuse,” Brown said. “Resident feedback has underscored the fact that the public’s trust in law enforcement is closely linked to the tactics and equipment that [they] use, both in First Amendment demonstrations and in neighborhoods across Columbus every day.”

During the meeting, Brown thanked the Public Safety Department and the Columbus Police Department, which, she said, has “helped to build the consensus we have today for bringing this ordinance forward.” The ordinance was requested as an emergency, according to Brown, “so that the division of police may continue their daily operations without interruption.”

Ordinance 1455-2022 is the other measure that was passed and a reform also imagined after the protests in 2020. Council member Dorans sponsored the ordinance in response to police misconduct that was difficult to investigate because officers couldn’t be identified and held accountable. Officers will wear their badge numbers and names on alternative uniforms and ensure they are identifiable while on duty.

Some Columbus residents expressed frustration that reforms didn't come sooner

Columbus residents spoke about the measures after the measures were introduced to the chamber. The first speaker President Pro Temp. Brown called to the podium was Adrienne Hood, whose son, Henry Green, was killed by two Columbus police officers in 2016. Monday, June 6, marked six years since Green was killed.

“I’m surprised and hurt that we have to have an ordinance that will require our police departments to do what they already took an oath to do,” Hood said. “And that’s to serve and protect.

Hood brought attention to the protests in 2020 when citizens in Columbus expressed their grief and anger, “saying enough was enough.”

“But instead of being allowed to peacefully protest, the protesters were met with riot gear and militarized weapons and equipment,” Hood said. “People were doused with pepper spray, mace and hit with rubber bullets.”

There may be some people who oppose the ordinances, Hood recognized, but she asked them why. Hood questioned if the point of being in law enforcement is to keep the public safe, then there’s no need for police officers to have militarized weapons and equipment.

“You’re not at war with the community,” Hood said. “You are supposed to be serving.”

The next speaker was resident Trent Callaway who recalled being at a city council meeting two years ago during initial discussions of police reform.

“Now, two years later, we’re finally getting into some resolution that does what seems like the bare minimum,” Callaway said. “I saw a lot of awful things happening during protests.”

Callaway said that during those protests he witnessed a lot of damage done not by protesters “but by the police themselves.” Callaway expressed feelings and concerns that the requirements and restrictions in these ordinances should’ve already been protocol.

“[Police officers] are an agent of the state designed to protect it as it brutalizes marginalized people, poor people [and] homeless people in our communities,” Callaway said. “And so I’m happy with these resolutions… but I’m also very sad and very disappointed more so.”

The ordinances were passed by council members in a unanimous vote, and now await signatures from Mayor Andrew Ginther.

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