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Columbus Mayor To Police Union: 'You're Either With Us, Or You're Against The Community'

Mayor Andrew Ginther tours the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Greater Columbus Convention Center
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Mayor Andrew Ginther tours the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther is urging the local Fraternal Order of Police to join in talks over reforming law enforcement, while reiterating that he does not support calls to defund the police.

"Let me be very clear to the FOP," Ginther said. "You're either with us, or you're against the community."

Ginther made his remarks during a virtual community address Wednesday, which was billed as an update on "police reforms, racial justice and equity."

In particular, Ginther called on the police union to support a Civilian Review Board, which would review cases of police misconduct and use-of-force. Such oversight is not allowed under the expiring police contract, but Ginther insisted the board will be seated by the end of the year, with or without the union's participation.

"Be part of the solution. Be part of the reform our community is demanding, starting with the formation of the Civilian Review Board," Ginther said. "The entire community has rallied around this reform."

Ginther said he spoke with the head of the FOP a few weeks ago, and they're planning to meet again this week.

Columbus Safety Advisory Commitee member Vladimir Kogan helped draft recent recommendations regarding independent reviews. Kogan says Ginther needs the FOP's support to get through contract negotiations.

"As a procedural matter, he’s right," Kogan says. "Some of these things are gonna require agreement and collective bargaining, which the city can negotiate. It’s not obvious what sort of sticks the city has if FOP says no."

The mayor's address comes as activists and City Council members criticize Columbus Police for once again using pepper spray on protesters, despite the city's new restrictions.

On Wednesday, Ginther once again defended officers' actions, saying he believed they didn't violate his order banning chemical agents against "non-violent" crowds. The mayor said that some people were using plywood shields and assaulting officers, and it's within department policy to use pepper spray "wherever those threats of violence are coming from."

"I think that our order has been very clear," Ginther said.

Columbus City Council disagrees with the mayor on that point, saying the use of pepper spray went against the reforms. Several members have called for hearings on the demilitarization of the department.

Ginther said the city will hire an independent investigator to look into police department's response to the protests, and an outside law enforcement agency will examine whether to press administrative or criminal charges against officers. All recent complaints of officer misconduct are being reviewed by the Department of Public Safety, outside of the police chain-of-command.

A petition campaign to force a recall vote against Ginther has so far gathered thousands of signatures, according to organizers, while almost 25,000 people signed a Change.org petition demanding the resignation of Ginther and Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan. Ginther said he would not resign in an interview with Fox28 on Monday.

In addition to the pepper spray order, Ginther issued a series of policy changes in the wake of weeks of racial justice. Last week, Ginther said the city will adopt the #8CantWait reforms, which require officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting, establish a duty to intervene against misconduct, ban shooting at moving vehicles, and mandates comprehensive reporting. And he named 14 members to a new advisory panel in the police chief's office, which will hold its first meeting in July.

However, many activists have called on the city to go further and defund or abolish the Columbus Division of Police, which accounts for more than a third of the city's annual budget. Ginther shot those requests down on Wednesday.

"I do not believe in defunding the Division of Police," he said. "I do believe in reforming the Division of Police."

Ginther said he agrees that police are asked to take on roles outside their scope, and that "there is a larger role in our community for non-uniform, de-escalation experts." But he says that Columbus residents "pay for and deserve" police that can respond to calls for service.

Recent protests have renewed calls for the removal of the city's three Christopher Columbus statue. The statue at Columbus State Community College was dismantled this past week, and the city said it will remove a statute of the explorer outside City Hall.

A third statue stands at the Ohio Statehouse, but Gov. Mike DeWine said he's not in favor of its removal.