Three photos, female police chief, male police chief

Former Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs, current Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan

Mayor Ginther and the City of Columbus have launched at least two independent investigations into the Columbus Division of Police, and the Mayor recently pronounced that “holding bad cops accountable is critical so we may support the vast majority of officers who are committed to keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

But according to several Columbus police officers, the greater problem within the Columbus Police Division is not a few bad apples, but a group of high-ranking white commanding officers.

These officers of lower rank who spoke to the Free Press refer to this high-ranking group of commanding officers who are Caucasian as the “corrupt regime” or the “cabal.”

They all agreed this “clique” has a vice grip on how the department is run and how it polices Columbus. None of the officers who spoke with the Free Press for this story allowed us to use their names out of fear of losing their job.

More specifically, said the anonymous officers, is how this “clique” has strategized for and encouraged the over-policing of neighborhoods of color.

This cabal, they say, has also allowed bad cops to continue to police without holding them accountable for previous civil rights violations and brutality. At the same time, they have held African American officers and female officers to a higher standard of professionalism while disciplining them stricter and at a higher percentage compared to white male officers. The clique has also promoted their own to run police task forces and high-profiled units.

Chief Thomas Quinlan, a 30-year veteran of the division and appointed chief last year, is part of this “clique,” some officers told the Free Press.

This clique also includes former Chief Kim Jacobs (2012-2019), the division’s first woman and openly gay Chief of Police for the division. All the officers the Free Press spoke with agreed former Chief Jacobs was one of the leaders of this “clique,” and even after retirement still holds influence.

“The Mayor and the Safety Director (Ned Pettus and previous Safety Directors) don’t know the internal organs of the division. They don’t come over here, they don’t see what happens inside,” said one anonymous officer. “Quinlan is a part of Jacob’s clique. He just became another Chief Jacobs. That’s why nothing has changed, and that’s why things are even getting worse.”

When Chief Jacobs took over in 2012 for instance, she removed the Deputy Chief over Internal Affairs (IA) and ruled that IA would now report directly to her. Chief Quinlan returned the Deputy Chief over IA, but tweaked division rules so this Deputy Chief adheres to his final say regarding IA discipline.  

Another officer said one reason why the clique essentially runs the division in an rogue manner is because Mayor Ginther and Safety Director(s) were – up until recently – too hands-off.

“When Mitch Brown was Safety Director (2000-2014), the Chief of Police here had absolute power. And they just rubber-stamped everything they put over there,” said the other officer.

One anonymous officer, who told the Free Press he is white, said this “crooked leadership” trickles down through the ranks. This “trickle-down effect” influences the overall policing of Columbus.

“Look at how we police the black community compared to other communities,” said the white officer. “If you take an officer from the Mount Vernon community and put them in the Bethel Road community, they are not going to police the same way. Their respect for the Bethel Road people is going to be different. They are not going to be pulling people over all the time. They are not going to be making traffic stops as much as they do in the black community or poor community. It’s just the way they police and how they handle people differently.”

The officers told the Free Press they agreed that the clique has control over Internal Affairs (as we mentioned). Because of this, investigations “never hardly ever come out unless there is hard evidence against the officer.”

Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight, who was promoted to Deputy Chief just this May and who was widely witnessed on downtown streets seeking peace with protesters, is part of the “clique” and “one of the leaders,” say the anonymous officers. And when Knight ran IA (2014-2017), “she slanted investigations so the city was never liable of anything, because the division is not sustained on serious allegations.”

Deputy Chief Knight indeed met with several protest leaders on downtown streets and in private.

“She befriended them so to placate them,” said another officer. “Her name is involved in a lot of internal discrimination lawsuits.”

The officers agreed that the changes City Council and Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein are making are significant and “will make a difference – but we need more.” 

For example, City Council passed a measure in late July restricting and reforming no-knock search warrants, the same type of warrant that killed Breonna Taylor.

“This is going to change a lot of behaviors. Now they have to have video cameras on them when they go into people’s houses. This will change a lot. It’s going to be able to see what they do. Keeping an eye on them,” said one officer.

These officers echoed what protest leaders have been saying for weeks: The only way to change Columbus police is by changing city policy, city law.

“The regime isn’t changing anything unless City Council pushes them to do it. They like the way things are. They like the system the way it is. We’ve been (the division) out of control for a while. Now the Mayor is trying to reign us in and the regime doesn’t like that.”

One officer was adamant: “We need a reset button. We need a new Chief from the outside who is honest. And we need to hit this reset button because things are crazy and not right.”