Justice Department recommends improvements in training, hiring and accountability for Columbus, Ohio, police department

The US Department of Justice has released its recommendations for reform of the Columbus, Ohio, police department following a nearly two-year review process.

The report recommends reworking the role of community liaisons, so officers serve longer terms in the role, receive longer training, and consequently are better able to solve problems.

The Columbus Division of Police requested the review — and help in implementing reform — in April 2021 as it faced multiple scandals, including backlash over how it handled protests for racial justice in 2020 and deadly police shootings, including those of Andre Hill and Ma’Khia Bryant.

The 14-page report from the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Office, includes suggestions to improve training, hiring and accountability, along with a recommendation for establishing a leadership group made up of individuals from the community, the police department and the Civil Service Commission.

The report, published Tuesday, also noted that the police department was lagging behind other city infrastructure in technical capability — with some officers still submitting only paper copies of police reports — and recommended the department undergo a “technology audit” to see what should be overhauled.

The review was aimed at improving the department’s relationship with the community and didn’t include its use of force policies. However, after receiving the report, the department requested that the COPS Office conduct such a review, a statement from the Justice Department said.

“The Justice Department, through our COPS Office, is proud to work with police departments seeking to improve and learn from best practices in the field,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta in the statement. “The city’s request to expand its engagement with COPS to review additional areas, including CDP’s use of force policies, is an important step that will benefit both CDP and the community.”

CNN has reached out to the Columbus Division of Police for comment.

The police department has faced accusations of racial discrimination in the past, including those contained in lawsuits from at least three Black officers within its ranks. In October 2020, the Columbus City Council voted to pay a $475,000 settlement to a Black officer who said in a lawsuit that he faced retaliation for reporting racism and other misconduct by a superior.

In May 2021, the city agreed to a $10 million settlement with the family of Andre Hill, an unarmed Black man shot and killed by officer Adam Coy in December 2020. Coy was fired following the shooting and indicted on several charges, including murder in the commission of a felony, felonious assault and two counts of dereliction of duty. He pleaded not guilty. The trial was set to begin in November but was postponed by a judge at the request of Coy’s defense team, CNN affiliate WBNS reported.

The department also faced scrutiny following the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant outside of her foster home in April 2021 after an argument with two other young women escalated. An officer shot Bryant four times after she charged someone with a knife.

A Franklin County, Ohio, grand jury declined to indict the officer in March of last year.

The COPS Office said the department should explore adding city attorney-based training in the academy so recruits can learn more about the issues most commonly seen in the City Attorney’s office. It also recommends allowing officers to participate in external specialized training, including from the FBI.

To improve community engagement, the report suggests stressing problem-solving training for community liaison officers and giving them time to regularly engage with business owners, faith leaders and the community at large.

Additionally, all police personnel “must operate with the philosophy that community policing and engagement is everyone’s duty, rather than that of a single division,” the report said. It also suggests more officers patrol by foot, bike or Segway instead of using police vehicles.

“The Columbus Division of Police is a promising institution, well positioned to make positive, self-driven reform in the coming years,” the report’s conclusion reads. “After two extensive site visits, an in-depth review of policies and practices, discussions with leadership, and the range of technical assistance provided, the CDP has begun the hard work of putting the division on a path to becoming a stronger agency.”

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