Report: Columbus anti-crime program viable despite pushback


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An annual anti-crime program helps make Ohio’s capital safer despite criticism from protesters of two fatal shootings by officers, police said Wednesday in releasing statistics associated with the summer initiative.

The program deploys more officers during the warmer months in an effort to stem violence in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

But calls for changes to the so-called community safety initiative have mounted following the fatal police shootings of 23-year-old Henry Green and 13-year-old Tyre King.

Tyre was shot Sept. 14 after he ran from an officer investigating a reported armed robbery and pulled a BB gun that looked like a real firearm, police say.

Green was shot June 6 after he ignored the commands of two plainclothes officers to drop his gun and fired on them, police say. His death came during the summer initiative.

“Despite the outcry over the Henry Green shooting incident, (the initiative) remains as a viable and effective program for the Division,” Commander Gary Cameron, the program’s director, said in a Sept. 9 report on the program released Wednesday.

Statistics for the initiative show the arrests of 402 felons and the seizure of 87 firearms and nearly 5½ pounds of heroin from late May to late August.

The city’s homicide rate remains relatively unchanged over the past five years, according to the report. And the robbery rate for the summer months increased over the past four years, in part because of the opiate epidemic.

“While the statistics do not play out in dramatic fashion after the 12th year one fact is clearly evident, Columbus is safer and there are relatively fewer violent crimes perpetrated upon our children,” the report says.

Cameron said measuring success in the program can be tricky because the figures don’t necessarily translate into how safe people feel in their homes or take into account the inroads officers have made in neighborhoods.

“It’s also those moments where officers are driving down the street and see a pickup game of basketball, they get out of their car and they play with the kids,” he said in an interview. “We do that on a regular basis. It’s hard to capture those things.”

The report comes as the mayor prepares his budget proposal and as Columbus City Council President Zach Klein says he’s committed to re-evaluating the summer initiative following calls from demonstrators.

The report recommends the police chief request more money for the program to staff six officers, not four, in each of the city’s five patrol zones. Other recommendations include setting a policy that makes surveillance the primary role of plainclothes officers, and requiring them to work near uniformed officers.

Democratic Mayor Andrew Ginther said he’s weighing input from law enforcement, community leaders and others. He couldn’t say whether he would boost the program’s funding or commit to other recommendations.

“We’re taking all these things into consideration at this point,” Ginther said. “I haven’t made a final determination.”

His budget proposal is expected to be presented to the city council by Nov. 15.

A group that has organized protests following the fatal police shootings said it’s encouraged that police are rethinking how they use plainclothes officers. But Tammy Fournier-Alsaada, from the People’s Justice Project, said that doesn’t address underlying issue with police shootings.

“We believe much larger changes are needed in how the police interact with people in these neighborhoods and that a substantial shift towards community based policing methods are required,” Fournier-Alsaada said in a statement.

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This story has been corrected to show that the time period for the police initiative ended in late August, not early September.

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