First Columbus Inspector General explains role in police oversight
Editor's Note: The following is a transcription of the Matter News podcast The Future of Policing in Columbus episode with the new Columbus Inspector General. The episode was originally published on May 9, 2022.
In the wake of the protests in the summer of 2020, Columbus City Council placed a charter amendment on the fall ballot to establish a civilian police review board and an Office of Inspector General.
The initiative passed with overwhelming voter support, even though the community at the time had little understanding of how it was all going to work. Two years later, this July, the process is scheduled to actually begin. Mayor Ginther initially appointed the nine member board and then expanded it to 11 after a public outcry that the people on it did not represent the overpoliced neighborhoods of our community. They spent several months getting their own house in order and then began the process of selecting an inspector general. It took them two months longer than they had hoped, which gives the new IG two fewer months to get her office up and running.
But as you'll hear from our interview, Inspector General Jacqueline Hendricks is not complaining. She is thrilled to be here and happy to use her extensive career experience to benefit the residents of Columbus. IG Hendrix retired from the Detroit Police Department as a sergeant, having spent time working as an internal affairs investigator.
She then began working for the then newly established inspector general's office in Detroit. She has a master's degree in public administration from Central Michigan University. So welcome, IG Hendricks.
Everyone's got to want to know what it's like just instantly being plunked down in the middle of Buckeye Land. I mean, how is that working for you?
I will say I'm excited to be here. I do have family from Ohio, and so that would make me laugh because that's one of the things we would talk about when we visit and talking about the different football games and just dealing with the different universities.
Because I have family here that is truly a Buckeye fam and then I have family that is from Michigan, including my daughter who graduated, you know, and she has her doctorate degree and she's a Wolverine fan. But I'm excited.
And I was raised by a Michigan grad. So, you know, I understand the conflict. It's very real. But nice to have you here. And thank you for uprooting your life and coming down to help us in this town.
Tell me, how have your days gotten normal yet? I mean, is there a normal day in the inspector general's office or do you ever expect there to be a normal day?
Well, right now I would say no, the days are not normal because I'm very busy, you know, trying to get the office up and running. We go operational in July. I think right now our tentative date is July the 11th of this year.
So I'm aggressively trying to get the office up and running. And how does that look? That is hiring the staff. Getting our policies and procedures in place, being able to put together a good outreach program that's going to allow us to be able to reach the community and let the community know when we open and what the intake process is going to look like for us accepting complaints. And so part of that is getting our website up and running, establishing a hotline and just having that information so that the community is aware that we will be operational, when we'll be operational and what that's going to look like.
And so I haven't had a chance to get out and meet as many community people as I want to. And part of that is because I'm working on getting my fliers, brochures and information I need. So when I'm out there, not only will I be able to talk to the community and tell them the process, but be able to give them information and pamphlets that's also going to have that information. So that's what's going on.
That is so, so much. I mean, you must start at 0-dark-30 in the morning and not stop. I can't imagine how much is on your plate. You know, the folks here in Columbus have been waiting for you for 20 years.
You know, the earliest calls for a civilian review board were over 20 years ago. And so this is a long time coming and a lot of expectations, a lot of, you know, focus on this. And I wonder if you can give us a sense of what it's actually really going to look like.
And is this, in your mind, going to meet the expectations of those 20 years of waiting? Tell us what's going to happen after July? What will citizens be able to do in interacting with your office?
Our office is mandated by the charter. So when you look at the Columbus charter, our office and the Civilian Review Board was established in 2020. And so the duties and responsibilities that this office will have is all mandated by the charter.
So how that's going to look is that we will be receiving, initiating and investigating complaints alleging misconduct and excessive use of force. By sworn members of the Division of Police for Columbus. With that, how that's going to work is, again, we're going to be establishing an intake policy so that citizens will be able to file those complaints.
Those will be in person if they want to walk in. Hotline. We're going to be putting on our website. I would like to have a connection there where they can actually pull the complaint down and file it and fill that out and submit it to us.
We're working on trying to get all of that in place until we're able to get the website up and running. But that's something that happens later. Definitely the citizens will be able to just walk in, file a complaint, or make a phone call.
But that's how that process is going to look.
And is this going to change the community's relationship with the police department as they know it? For instance, will they now not be filing internal affairs complaints or will they do that in addition to filing with your office?
Walk us through that.
So I always go back to what the charter is because we're still in the process of getting all of our policies and procedures approved. So based on the charter, the charter states that the civilian review board, and of course, I work under the direction of the civilian review board, so that they will receive, initiate and conduct investigations again alleging misconduct, excessive use of force by sworn members of the Columbus Division of Police. So based on the charter, our office will be receiving all of those. Now, how that looks for the Columbus Police Department. I won't speak on that.
I can just speak on what the charter says. And so based on the charter, that is what our office is planning to do, and that's what it intends to do, because also the civilian review board can initiate complaints, or if someone files that complaint with the board, they'll be filtering that complaint down to our office, because the Department of Inspector General's Office is the investigative agent for the police review board.
That's very clear. Thank you very much. I think what I heard is you are replacing the Internal Affairs Bureau. That's the main thing that I was hoping to understand. And you don't have anything to do with them.
So if they're conducting an investigation, that's their prerogative, obviously. And you will follow your mandate in the city charter. You're going to start in July. Does that mean that a complaint that someone files with you will have to have happened after July? Or can they be filing complaints about things that happened before July?
That's a really good question. So what I would say is I'm still guided by whatever is in the policies and procedures for the collective bargaining agreement, from what I understand. And so I'm not going to speak specifically on that because I don't want to speak on something that I'm unsure of right now.
But there is a division in there that talks about how a complaint has to be filed within so many days. So what I will be doing is once we have that pinpointed in our policies, then we'll definitely have that in the information.
You did this type of work in Detroit as well, is that right?
Oh, absolutely. That's one of the reasons I was really excited to take the position, and that comes from just really wanting to build that trust between the community and police. So a little about my background, prior to working for the Detroit OIG office, because that office was newly created in 2012,
I retired from the Detroit Police Department after 27 years. For the latter part of my career, I worked a special unit called Force Investigations that was a part of the Internal Affairs Unit, and we investigated category two use of force involving Detroit sworn officers.
And so a category two use of force was any time officers discharged their weapon, whether it took effect or didn't take effect, any time a prisoner was injured, which caused them to go to the hospital and receive medical treatment or any incidents involving where a prisoner might have been injured or any allegations of a use of force that was filed against an officer. So with the part of the shots fired, the incidents involving use of force going to the hospital, we would get a call and we responded within an hour of the incident. And I like that because we initially would go out and conduct a preliminary investigation.
So we were there. We did canvass, talked to the people, found out what happened, and then we would come back and do a preliminary report which went to the chief, so he was aware of what actually happened. And then that investigation would be assigned to a sergeant that did a thorough investigation.
You know, the thing I like about that part is I believe it was an incident where it actually helps to do the initial investigation that protects the officer in case of an allegation that's fraudulent, but it also protects the complainant, because when the incident occurs, we're out there, we get a chance to see everything right then and there. So the investigation is done. I would like to say, like within real time, because it's done within an hour to two hours when the incident calls, like most officers, that when they make a scene and an incident occurs, they have to notify dispatch.
So I did that. And then when I retired, I started working with the Detroit Office of Inspector General. That office was created by the charter in 2012. But they were putting the office together in 2013, and that's when I came on.
And so the difference with the Detroit Office of Inspector General is that office has jurisdiction over the whole city. All public servants, city officials, police and fire. And we investigate in that that office. They investigated fraud, waste, abuse and corruption.
And I take the role very serious, and I know that I will do my best.
So you've actually been through the setting up of an office before. That's really helpful, I'm sure. So some of the things that you just referenced, the Detroit office has a broader scope than the office you're setting up here.
And I'm not sure there was really ever a conversation, at least with the public in Columbus, about having a broader scope than just policing. So that gives you a little more focus. I want to clarify here, when you were talking about the force group that you were with, when you were with the Detroit police and you were able to be on site quickly, and how much of an impact that makes in terms of getting all the evidence and information quickly as inspector general. You don't expect that you would have that privilege, though, right? You would always be getting these reports, if not hours, mostly days or weeks later, is that right?
I would say that would probably be right. Depends on the complainant and when they want to file the complaint with their office. So as soon as they filed the complaint, we would be looking into it.
Do you have any expectation that a use of force that, say, resulted in a serious injury or death that you could be on the scene? That you would actually be able to, if someone contacted you, that you would have the personnel to be able to go out right then?
Well, one thing that I want to make clear is that our office conducts administrative investigations. So an investigation that might result in death or serious injury that you're talking about could possibly be a criminal investigation. And that would be conducted by the Columbus Division of police, most likely their internal affairs division.
Right. And of course, their procedure now is to refer many of those investigations to BCI. So you would not be I just want to make sure folks listening understand the scope of your activities as you would not be repeating the investigations that BCI would be doing.
Does that sound right, or do you know yet?
So to answer your question, and this is the best way I can answer it, if it's a criminal investigation, we would not be repeating the criminal investigation. However, if it was a criminal investigation and they make a determination that there is no criminality. That comes back and now that person is still with the department, and it becomes an administrative matter, then yes, we would definitely be looking at conducting the administrative investigation to determine whether or not that officer's actions was in compliance with their policies and procedures.
That makes sense. Thank you. So then just one quick follow up on that. So then we talked earlier about the time table of filing. Since we know that BCI takes a year, or then the prosecutor takes another six months after BCI is done with their investigation, we're talking about maybe a year and a half before we determine there is no criminal wrongdoing. So the person would then be able to file a complaint with your office or would they have had to have done it months ago and you would just wait to see when the criminal investigation is over?
I would say, you know, what we're looking at is more on the term that because the complaint has to be filed within a certain number of days of the incident, that they would file the complaint with our office.
And what we would do is just table that investigation until the criminal part is done before we would reopen it for the administrative part.
That's really good. Good to know. Thanks for clarifying that. So just a quick question. There's some folks in Columbus who are interested in the DOJ coming in with a consent decree, and that has not happened yet, at least to my knowledge.
How would that impact your office, if at all? Would your work change at all under a consent decree? Talk us through a little bit about how that might work.
So what I understand is right now, you know, you always hear me talking about the charter. Our office is established by the charter. So our duties and responsibilities, our charter mandate it. I don't envision there will be any change or our role based on the charter.
However, could there be some additional responsibilities? That would be the only thing I could possibly think of if, you know, DOJ might be wanting some additional things, but right now, our roles and our responsibilities as mandated by the charter, and that's not going to change.
That makes sense. So what else is on your mind about how your work will roll out here that community needs to know? What will make your job easier, you know, because it's a very hard job. I'm totally and completely respectful of the fact that you're taking on a really challenging, you know, set of duties.
So what do you want the community to know that will help you to do that the best? You know, that will create a good relationship with your office, that will allow you to work the hardest for them?
I will say information. We definitely want the community to know that we are here. Information is the key. So when a person comes to our office and they want to file a complaint, having this much information about what happened is a good thing.
It allows us to be able to take that information and look at it and do more of a thorough investigation. The staff that I'm looking at to bring in to the office, you know, I'm making sure that the staff has experience conducting investigations.
The investigations will be looked at, they'll be reviewed. And that, again, you're going to hear me say that sometimes I feel like it sounds like a broken record, but it's the facts and that the investigations are just fact based.
And so with that being said, information and what we're able to obtain and what we're able to be able to prove or to be in our findings are all just going to be based on the information that we're able to obtain and be able to determine whether or not the allegation that is brought before us is, you know, within compliance with policy procedures and the laws that are established by the city of Columbus, along with the laws of the state of Ohio.
A few follow up questions on that, actually. One is, will you be... I mean, I'm not a trained police investigator. I feel as a journalist that I dig into a lot of facts and try to, you know, confirm them before I report them.
But that's a different activity than trying to prove something is in compliance with police procedure. Are you going to be offering I guess the best word would be training or, you know, help sheets or frequently asked questions or is that going to be part of your ongoing outreach to tell people, you know, here's the form that you'll be asked to fill out if you can look at it in advance and see what's missing before you come to it. I mean, will it be that sort of relationship?
I will say absolutely. You know, one of the things we've kind of talked about in designing our website is frequently asked questions so that citizens, when they go to the website will be able to say, well, what are some of the frequently asked questions?
We'll put a copy of what the form will be, look like. The format has some information out there. Also, just our office being a good source of information. So citizens will be able to call and ask the staff, whoever is answering the phone, if they want to ask them some questions.
And then I will say as I get out there and I'm able to talk to the citizens more even like doing this podcast questions that may be citizens that have that I'll start hearing we're going to have a community relations person on our staff that's going to be out there.
And so any frequently asked questions or questions that the citizens are going to have, a lot of that information will be brought back to the office, and I would like to be able to address those on the website.
So some of the things that citizens might not know. And so that's kind of one of the things we were clarifying in this podcast is the fact that we are conducting only administrative investigations, that our investigations are not criminal investigations.
However, if we're conducting an investigation, and it leads to information that we find that could possibly be criminal, we would be forwarding that to another investigative agency to handle that. So it's not like we would stop and not oversee that.
We just would be forwarding it to another agency that would be handling that. Another question citizens might want to know is, again, how soon do we file the a complaint? Do we wait until the criminal process is over? And I would say no when the incident happens file a complaint with us. Let us be the one that tables it until that criminal part might be done, because we don't want to interfere in a criminal investigation, which is why we would not be handling that so that criminal art is over.
The other thing I would say is, you know, because along with conducting complaints against sworn officers, is we really want to build that informational knowledge for citizens as to what the officers role is, because there may be complaints that citizens filed against an action that an officer does and doing the investigation will find whether or not that officer violated policy and procedures. And we'll be making recommendations based on whether that officer was compliant or not compliant. We also will be looking to see if there are some policies out there, maybe that officers actions were in compliance with their policy and procedures.
We'll be looking to see if that might need to be revised. Is there a pattern out there? But the main thing that I would like to always go back and forth to say is that our goal is really building the relationship with the community and the police and along with getting the community kind of understand maybe some of the roles that officers do have and if it's an issue, then being able to address that issue also.
You just caught part of my second question, which was will the community start learning more about these policies and procedures? And what I am wondering, having sat through a lot of the civilian review board meetings, is that the civilian review board, I believe, might have more of a role in considering overall that you might see this pattern of behavior that relates to a policy that is clearly stated and your thinking, "If we clearly stated it, officers might be able to behave more appropriately in the eyes of the community."
And you take that to the civilian review board and they consider it, and then they make the recommendation to the police department. So it's a team tagging hearing in a sense of, you know, you're working on developing the data or the facts that relate to that policy, and then they might be considering it from the community's perspective.
So it feels to me that this whole process will bring out much more information about how the division is managed, how the collective bargaining agreement works, just a lot of things that the community kind of know, but they don't really have the facts or the words to put to it.
So this sounds like a really good educational process all the way around. And I really appreciate your years of insight into knowing how to explain all of this, because it is going to be complicated, I think, at the beginning.
And that is going to be your biggest, their biggest challenge. So really thank you for getting us started with this early information, and I'm sure we'll look forward to talk to you again and especially after the website is up and you're getting some of these questions back from the community.
And certainly as we get any questions back from this podcast, we'll forward them to you so you can put them in the in the mix of things that might be frequently asked. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with the community before we call it a wrap?
I want to be able to just share with everyone that our main goal and I say, as I like to say, procedural justice. And what procedural justice means is that the investigations that we're doing are going to be fact-based.
And what we're looking at is whatever actions were taken, you know, was it within line of policy and procedure or is there a change that needs to be done with the policy or the procedure so that not only the officers can do their job, but that the officers can have that interactions with the community so that everyone feels that they are being respected. The community is being respected when they have that interactions with officers, and the officers actions with the community can be well received. And that is my goal in building that community, trust within the community and with police.
So when our office is up and running. I want the community to feel comfortable with coming in and having a conversation with us. Even if they have a question about something, you know, please feel free to call the staff, talk to them, find out whatever questions you have.
And you know, my staff will be here to make sure that they're here to be, you know, to listen to questions and be an advocate. I want to thank you, too. I appreciate you allowing me to be able to speak and maybe get some of this information out.
And I look forward to maybe doing another podcast where I'll be able to give more specific details about our office as we get closer to the date of launch on July 11 of this year.
After the interview, IG Hendricks called me back after and answered the question about how long we have to file complaints with her office. She reviewed the contract with the police union, which states all complaints must be filed within 90 days of the event.
So I did some math. Let's assume her office is able to open on July 11th as the charter mandates. That means that any actions taken by CPD officers from April 12th forward can be reported to her the day she opens.
So even though we don't yet have the forms in the website to see the process, it is reassuring to know that any inappropriate actions residents experience right now will be subject to an investigation by the Inspector General and a review by the Civilian Police Review Board.