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Clergy Members Allege Discrimination By Columbus Police

Esther Honig

Members of the clergy in Columbus are demanding changes regarding allegations of a climate of discrimination in its police department.

More than 30 members signed a letter that was recently delivered to Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther's office asking for several changes, including transferring department discrimination complaints within from the police's Internal Affairs Bureau to the city's Department of Human Resources. Other requests include improving working conditions for minority officers and improving interactions between police and community members.

"We've got a problem with discrimination in the police force and on the streets of Columbus," the Rev. Tim Ahrens of First Congregational Church said at the group's gathering in front of City Hall last week. "We've got to change the culture of discrimination now."

Lawsuits alleging racism within the police division have been filed against the department.

"There are seven internal officers claiming discrimination against their own employer," said Pastor Jeffery P. Kee of New Faith Baptist Church.

The group also wants internal affairs investigations into resident complaints about racial profiling and discrimination to be reviewed by the city's Equal Employment Opportunity office, and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to be involved when someone is killed by police.

The group asked Ginther for a meeting in 30 days to discuss the recommendations.

Ginther said in a statement issued after the group's requests that officials share the group's values and everyone wants a safe community for "our families, our neighbors and first responders."

He also said a safety advisory commission created last year is reviewing police training, policies and procedures. An independent consultant is also assisting the commission with recommendations for him.

"We look forward to continued conversations with these faith leaders to address their expectations," Ginther said.

Police spokeswoman Denise Alex-Bouzounis told The Columbus Dispatch police have offered training days for clergy members to explain how officers do their jobs.

"We feel like communication is better than protesting because at least there's dialogue between two parties, and we're always open to that," she said.