Community leaders optimistic about Columbus police changes

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As Interim Columbus police Chief Thomas Quinlan announced his plan Monday for reorganizing the police department, he did so with a handful of community and faith leaders behind him.

Pastor John Coats II, leader of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance in Columbus, was among those who stood behind Quinlan. He said the compassion the police division is trying to use to interact with the community is evident.

“This has to be applauded,” Coats said. “This is a transparent process where the community isn’t detached and you see the community input throughout.”

Quinlan said the plan was put together with input and emphasis on service to the community and its residents.

Keith Ferrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, which represents city police officers, said the union is all for the changes, as long as officers’ well-being is taken into account and the division and city leadership are direct with the public.

One of the most visible changes within Quinlan’s plan is the creation of the Police and Community Together (PACT) team to take over enforcement of many areas once handled by the former vice unit.

Ferrell said the division could have handled the public scandals the unit was embroiled in by dealing with the officers causing the issues and not replacing the entire unit. However, the union is fine with change as long as there is an effective way of addressing those community concerns.

“One of the biggest issues we hear about is street prostitution,” Ferrell said. “It brings drugs to people’s corners and problems to the area and people want something done about it.”

Ferrell also said the union is pleased with the plan’s addition of a wellness bureau to assist officers with processing the trauma they experience on a regular basis.

“We see these things everyday — and someone has to,” he said. “But it wears on your soul, your mind and your body. You can’t go to the next call crying, so people don’t see it on our faces. But your soul can only take so much.”

The addition of programming for youth and teens is something Ferrell is also pleased to see in an effort to build relationships with the community at a younger age.

“I hope these programs target kids at all ages because we have the ability to change their path if we connect with them younger,” he said.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said in a statement he is also in support of the changes being made by Quinlan, which come as a nationwide search for a replacement for former Chief Kim Jacobs is ongoing.

“Chief Quinlan is working to make positive change within the Division based on input from the community,” Ginther said. “The plan he outlined today is reflective of that, and I am fully supportive.”

Councilman Mitchell Brown, who is chair of council’s safety committee, said Monday he had not had a chance to review the entire plan, but was hopeful the changes and having community input for the division will be a move in the right direction for the city.

“The opportunity to collaborate with Interim Chief Quinlan has good value,” he said.

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@bethany_bruner