Columbus mayor asks Department of Justice to probe city’s police department

The mayor of Columbus, Ohio, is calling on the Department of Justice to commit a full-scale investigation into his city’s police department after several high-profile, fatal police shootings. Mayor Andrew Ginther said despite his city’s efforts to implement policing reform, there remains opposition from the city’s police department.

“This is not about one particular officer, policy, or incident; rather, this is about reforming the entire institution of policing in Columbus,” Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein wrote in a letter to the department. “Simply put: We need to change the culture of the Columbus Division of Police.”

Ginther requested the Justice Department to evaluate the city’s current reform measures and determine whether they are efficient and to make recommendations on what to change. They also asked federal officials to determine if racial disparities exist within the city’s police department – within areas such as hiring, use of force, recruitment, discipline.

The letter follows the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Ma’kiah Bryant, who is Black. The teen was killed by a White officer who responded to 911 calls requesting police assistance. In body camera footage, the officer fired four shots at Bryant as she swung a knife at another young woman.

“While we will continue to press for change through new leadership, policy changes, and collective bargaining, it has become clear we will not be able to affect the rapid, significant and sustainable change we all desire and demand without different levers of power,” Ginther and Klein wrote.

Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of the local police union, said his organization is always willing to work to improve policing. “Politicians constantly vilifying officers breeds contempt for authority, emboldens the criminal element and has led to a mass exodus of law enforcement officers from the profession,” Simpson said in a statement.

In the Wednesday letter, Ginther pledged to give the city’s full support for a federal investigation: “We want to be partners with the DOJ to bring about meaningful, sustainable and significant reforms. Not only is the elected leadership in the City of Columbus aligned with this request, but the residents of Columbus unquestionably share the same goal.”

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