Interim Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan is set to announce the creation of the Police and Community Together Team (PACT), as well as a series of other changes, at a news conference Monday.
Four months after disbanding the Columbus police vice unit, Interim Chief Thomas Quinlan is bringing the unit back in a new format with more community involvement.
The Police and Community Together (PACT) team is one of a series of changes Quinlan will announce publicly during a news conference Monday morning at the division’s academy.
Quinlan said the PACT team will work with faith leaders, health services and community groups to try to develop solutions to problems the vice unit had previously handled, such as prostitution, problem carryouts and other nuisance-abatement issues.
The unit will use community resource officers who are currently assigned to the five division patrol zones and rotate them in and out to prevent officers from becoming too comfortable with each other and allowing misconduct to slide, as the previous vice unit had been accused of doing.
Quinlan said officers from each zone will be brought together to work a mission for a designated period of time before being returned to their regular patrol zones. The next mission will then use a new group of officers.
He also said officers working with the PACT team will have specific directives and will not be able to work without the approval of supervisors, something the vice unit was accused of doing within strip clubs and in prostitution enforcement.
“If someone wants to go arrest someone at a strip club, it’s because that’s what the mission is,” Quinlan said.
He said the way the vice unit was operating “fell apart” and allowed for an “institutional failure.” Former vice officer Andrew Mitchell is currently under federal indictment. He is accused of forcing at least two women into sexual conduct in exchange for their freedom. He also was indicted on state charges that accuse him of purposefully killing Donna Castleberry while working undercover on Aug. 23.
Castleberry’s shooting and the high-profile arrest and subsequent dismissal of charges against adult film star Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, in July 2018 prompted an investigation into the unit by the FBI’s Public Corruption Task Force, resulting in the charges against Mitchell and the disbanding of the vice unit in March.
Quinlan said the PACT unit will use plainclothes officers to run prostitution stings. Officers will then take those arrested to a staging area, where they will be provided with addiction and mental health resources, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and other health issues and information about how to get out of the lifestyle.
Many of those arrested will be issued summons to appear in court on a later date, allowing them to take advantage of the resources immediately instead of being taken to jail and having to wait until after a hearing, Quinlan said.
Those arrested also will be directed to Changing Actions to Change HabitsCourt if they qualify or to a “john school.” CATCH Court allows women involved in sex work and human trafficking to go through an intensive two-year program that provides them with counseling and other resources to improve their lives. The john school provides education to men on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and the human toll of sex work.
Different tactics will be used in different areas of the city, depending on what will work in each area — and whether the community is willing to work with officers.
“If one community doesn’t want us there, we have plenty of other work to do,” he said. “But if an area wants us there, we will be there for them.”
Quinlan said the division is changing its mission statement and core values to reflect service to the community and compassion for those with whom officers are interacting every day.
The changes also include the assignment of an officer to the FBI’s Public Corruption Task Force who will report directly to Quinlan, allowing that officer to investigate allegations of corruption or misconduct without pressure from within the division.
“Hopefully it’s the most boring job in the world,” he said.
Quinlan also said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther approved a new commander to oversee a wellness bureau within the division to help focus on the mental well-being of officers and to help officers cope with what they see on a daily basis.
“We see a lot of heartbreak, and it plays on an officer’s psyche,” he said.
Some of the other changes involve the combining of the two patrol subdivisions into one and the creation of a public accountability subdivision, which will oversee internal affairs investigations, professional standards and discipline, as well as human resources.
There will also be a new community services subdivision, which will oversee new youth services programming and other initiatives that will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months as plans are finalized.
All of the changes, with the exception of the wellness bureau, are being done without additional cost through the reallocation of current resources, Quinlan said. The changes also will not take any patrol officers off the street.
Quinlan is implementing the changes while the search for a replacement for former chief Kim Jacobs is ongoing. He said that regardless of whether he is named the permanent chief, he hopes the changes he is implementing will help put the division on a path to be more community focused, something community members say they want.
“They’ve called for change and want a change agent,” he said. “This is the change they’ve asked for, and I hope they give us the opportunity to prove these programs are good for the community.”