Crossing the Line
Quinlan stalled police reforms he opposed, leaked document shows
Notes from former Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan revealed that the now deputy chief put about a dozen reforms suggested by a civilian commission last year on hold because he disagreed.
This is the first in a two-part series analyzing the Columbus Division of Police's dashboard on reform progress. Stay tuned for the second part to be published later this week.
Former Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan said he believed it was important to maintain transparency on reform progress during the announcement of an online dashboard designed to do just that. However, a leaked document reveals he wasn't being fully transparent with the public about reforms he opposed.
The Columbus Division of Police launched a new dashboard website, on October 1, 2020, designed to provide accountability and transparency on the progress the former police chief, who was hired for this task, has made toward implementing citizen-led reform.
“I think it's very important to maintain transparency with the public,” former Police Chief Thomas Quinlan said when announcing the dashboard.
On the dashboard, a list of 219 recommendations are categorized by their progress toward completion but in a report from now deputy chief Quinlan, leaked to Matter, he adds another category that indicates he does not agree with some of the recommendations. Yet, the category showing Quinlan’s disapproval is not shown on the dashboard. This and other discrepancies between the dashboard and Quinlan’s notes show fewer reforms have been completed than the dashboard reflects.
Quinlan returned to his rank of deputy chief on January 28 when Mayor Andrew Ginther announced that he had asked Quinlan to step down.
“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.
Further investigation shows how Quinlan’s efforts and attitudes were not clearly reflected to the public, which may have played a role in Ginther’s decision. Community members, from activists to clergy, continue to ask for his firing altogether.
Recommendations Quinlan Does Not Support
Quinlan’s progress notes include a 5th category that is not shown on the public dashboard. The category, titled “Do not support recommendation [without] input,” is clearly marked with his reasoning for objecting to reforms developed by the citizens and endorsed by the mayor. While he was chief, Quinlan could, in effect, overrule these reforms based on his personal opinions by simply not working toward their implementation. That’s true for the future chief as well, who will be working with Quinlan.
Those recommendations are marked as needing discussion before Quinlan will take action on the private document, but the public-facing dashboard marks them as on hold because they are waiting for action, not because the now deputy chief objects. Two of the actions are listed as waiting for negotiation with the police union, which is currently ongoing, but the other two vaguely say that the recommendation “requires further development.”
One of the Safety Advisory recommendations Quinlan objected to is ceasing the use of credit scores to evaluate police applicants. Quinlan wrote that he believes this information contributes to insight into the maturity of the candidate and wouldn’t be used for final selection. “Do not agree with recommendation,” he wrote, but on the dashboard it is listed as “Requires Further Development.”
Another recommendation Quinlan disagrees with would extend the time that instances of excessive use of force remain in an officer’s file from three years to as long as they are with the division. He mentioned that this issue has been covered in previous arbitrations with the police union but doesn’t make it clear whether or not they’ll continue discussions on it. On the dashboard it is listed as “Approved: Requires Bargaining.”
Bargaining with the police union automatically happens at each contract renewal every three years, but mid-term bargaining is also included in the current contract CPD has with the Fraternal Order of Police, meaning that the chief could begin negotiations on the appropriate recommendations with FOP at any time.
The next recommendation Quinlan is noting disagreement with would require every officer involved in a shooting or use of deadly force incident to have mandatory drug and alcohol screening immediately after the incident. He cited many reasons to object — including criminal rights and search warrant issues — but concludes that this is already allowed if any one of the dozens of officers at these scenes suspects any impairment from the shooting officer’s demeanor. On the dashboard it is listed as “Approved: Requires Bargaining.”
The last Safety Advisory recommendation is directed to the Mayor’s Office but Quinlan expresses his disapproval of the policy. It asks the Mayor to lobby for the elimination of the Felony Murder statutes, such as the one used Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien used to prosecute Masonique Saunders. Quinlan sees it as a critical tool for prosecutors and mentions it can also be used to charge police officers when appropriate. On the dashboard it is listed as “Requires Further Development.”
Another discrepancy to note is a recommendation marked as “Requires Further Development” on the dashboard but “Completed to extent agreed” in Quinlan’s notes. The recommendation would eliminate the option for an officer facing suspension to use vacation time instead of being suspended, a discipline option called Leave Forfeiture. He wrote that Leave Forfeiture would not be an option for Equal Employment Opportunity complaints and many use of force complaints, but that’s it. It will still be an option for some use of force cases and all other types of complaints.
How did we get here?
In November 2017, Ginther put a plan into motion that would allow a comprehensive evaluation of CPD. He appointed 17 community members from a variety of neighborhoods and backgrounds to the Community Safety Advisory Commission and directed them to hire an outside consultant, The Matrix Corporation. The 330 page Matrix Report included 141 recommendations for reform, and the commission added another 80 recommendations to that.
After about two years of research, meetings and debate, Ginther had a list of over 200 specific and actionable recommendations that he publicly supported. However, former police spoke out against it, including former police chief .
Nine months later, the dashboard was the first look the public got at the progress being made on the recommendations from both the Safety Commission and the Matrix Report. The progress levels included were “Completed,” “In Progress,” “Approved - Requires Funding/Bargaining” and “Requires Further Development.” Thirty-three percent of the Safety Commission and 48% of the Matrix Report recommendations, for a total of 42% overall recommendations, were reported as completed on the dashboard as of publication.
A little over half of those recommendations focus on continuing existing policies or tweaking head count and do not include reforms or changes to current policy. Of the 20% “Completed” recommendations remaining, Matter has only been able to verify 9%, despite contacting Columbus police on several occasions for verification since mid-December.
“It is a lot of information,” said Erin Upchurch, a member of the Chief’s Advisory Panel, a successor to the Safety Advisory Commission. “But, if I were someone who was a private citizen who was not engaged, even minimally, I wouldn’t understand any of this, and I wouldn’t know what questions to ask or what is accurate ... Most people in the community don’t have that access.”
Upchurch also pointed out that she hasn’t used it as much as she would like because she has trouble finding it. The website address is not memorable nor optimized for Google searches, which was also a problem for the CPD Public Information Officer, Sgt. James Fuqua. He admitted he hadn’t been to the website yet.
“The whole point of the dashboard was to make it temporarily transparent, but yet it seems very few of us actually knows who manages the dashboard and what actually has been completed,” Fuqua said.