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Columbus Police Release Results Of Controversial Policing Program

Esther Honig
Commander Gary Cameron creates the annual report on the Community Safety Initiative. Behind him are photos from the thousands of positive interactions he says police shared with citizens this summer.

This summer’s shootings of two African-Americans by Columbus Police officers has brought attention to the divisions patrolling practices. One of the most cited examples by community leaders is the summer policing program which aims to reduce crime in targeted neighborhoods.

Critics say it unfairly targets low-income communities or color. Columbus Police say statistics from this year’s program show it was a success.

For the 12th straight summer, Columbus Police sent additional officers to patrol neighborhoods they identified as high crime.

This summer during the Community Safety Initiative, or CSI, police made nearly 1,000 arrests — though it's not stated how many resulted in actual convictions — and seized some 90 illegal guns as well as thousands of grams of narcotics.

The numbers match stats from the past five years.

Even though police cannot point to a significant decrease in crime, Commander Gary Cameron says the stats indicated success.

"The crime in Columbus changes throughout the year and so it ebbs and flows based on what's going on in that particular neighborhood, maybe what's going on in that particular street corner," Cameron said.

He added that Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs has placed an emphasis on community policing. This summer police attended approximately 50 block watch meetings and made more than 10,000 citizen interactions — playing basketball with kids in the park and talking to residents about local crimes.

"Everyday our personnel were out on the streets. They were not only doing great work as far as arresting violent offenders, but they were also engaged in a tremendous amount of positive community interaction," Cameron said.

A controversial aspect of the program are the officers who go undercover by patrolling in civilian clothes. Cameron says that this summer just 10 percent of their time, more than 3,000 hours, was spent in plainclothes.

It was plainclothes officers who shot Henry Green, a young man in the South Linden neighborhood. Police say Green threatened them with a gun, while eyewitnesses say police did not identify themselves of give Green a chance to respond.

That shooting continues to draw criticism.

Tammy Fournier Alsaada, leads the People’s Justice Project, an organization that’s been protesting and demanding an end to the CSI.

"It’s not a safety initiative," she said. "It’s a targeting of neighborhoods so lets just call it what it is."

Read: Some Residents Want Summer Policing Program To Go Away

Alsaada said this program does not make residents in these neighborhoods feel safe. And those numbers police report each year mean little.

"We need to rethink the measure and the matrix that’s being used around the safety initiative and what are the true outcomes of success that are really focused on safety," Alsaada aIS.

If the city really wants to bring violent crime down in tough neighborhoods, Alsaada said, if it wants to keep young people out of the criminal justice system, then city leaders have to do more than police crime.

"There has to be an intervention strategy, so you have to be reaching those at the highest risk of being shot today," Alsaada said.

Despite their demands, and the demands of protesters, Mayor Andrew Ginther says the program will remain, but suggest it may change slightly.

"We are not discarding the program as with all our programs the community safety initiative will continue to evolve," Ginther said.

According to the mayor the CSI has been successful at reducing crime, and has received support from residents in the targeted neighborhoods. Moving forward Ginther says community policing will continue to influence the CSI. 

"We're going to continue to measure success not just by how many guns, how much drugs, how many wanted felons are taken off the streets, but have we done our job to continue to build trust between communities and police," Ginther said.