Guy on a radio show

Local Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Ferrell pictured above during a pre-election online talk show

Activists hope Election Day in Columbus brought more accountability and transparency for the Columbus Division of Police. Columbus city leaders and the county’s newly elected county prosecutor Gary Tyack talk the talk, but will they follow through on promises of investigating and challenging the police when called for? 

Issue 2, establishing a Civilian Review Board (CRB) with oversight over the Columbus police, won in a landslide. The bar for greater police accountability was raised even higher after long-time Republican County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien was defeated by Tyack, a Democrat and the former 10th District Court of Appeals (Franklin County) Court Judge. 

O’Brien’s support for police and the cold, statue-like approach he exudes towards any victims of police is reflected in his record and highly criticized by local activists. During his 20-plus year tenure, only one case of police misconduct – resulted in criminal indictments. This case came from within the VICE unit, as one officer repeatedly abused sex workers, eventually killing one. Yet from 2013 to 2019, Columbus police killed 40 people, 27 of them Black.

What’s more, say critics such as the non-profit De-Escalate Ohio Now, when O’Brien’s office did convene a grand jury for police killings, it was all kept secret and in many cases his office put the victim’s life on trial arguing they caused their own death. 

Before and after the vote, Tyack – who has no prosecutorial experience – was saying things our county prosecutor’s office has probably never publicly spoken before. 

“The Fraternal Order of Police [FOP] will have to understand that if a police officer shoots an unarmed African-American, I will pursue the officer who does that. There is too much feeling in that group right now that a current prosecutor will just protect them and nothing will ever come of a shooting,” Tyack told the Columbus Underground on November 2nd. 

With 74 percent of the vote in favor of Issue 2, Columbus citizens in many ways demanded the new CRB have the leadership and teeth needed to reign in bad officers and also counter the local FOP, which many agree has too much power and influence over the city and the police Internal Affairs Bureau. 

The local FOP, however, that endorsed Trump, was tone deaf leading up to the vote as President Keith Ferrell appeared on a local gun store owner's online talk show. With a MAGA hat and a Hillary-in-prison-garb bobble head in clear sight, Ferrell claims Issue 2 would waste taxpayer dollars and that any future CRB members won’t have the know-how to investigate police misconduct.

There are Columbus police officers who are rejecting their own union’s resentment towards the new CRB. 

“I am glad that the citizens of Columbus want a direct role in holding officers accountable,” says veteran Columbus police officer Lt. Melissa McFadden who recently published a memoir Walking the Thin Black Line: Confronting Racism in the Columbus Division of Police. “The Internal Affairs Bureau has a history of conducting investigations biased toward the officers. The citizens deserve a just investigation process. I am also looking forward to the review board making sure internal investigations involving minority officers are conducted fairly.”

People’s Justice Project and Civilian Review Board Work Group member Jasmine Ayres says the city will be going in with “a strong position” when it begins CRB negotiations with the FOP.

“Columbus resoundingly passed this. Getting over 70 percent on anything, anywhere in the country, is quite the indictment on how progressive people want [the CRB] to be,” says Ayres. 

Nevertheless, she says, the upcoming CRB negotiations, which will include representatives from BakerHostetler, will be secret and have “structural racism problems” regarding state laws that dictate labor negotiations. 

“If you don’t agree on things, a fact finder is appointed. Well, a fact finder doesn’t have to be a lawyer, just a person who has experience negotiating things. And I would venture that most are white and male. And if gets past that portion, the labor relations board for the state appoints an arbiter. Well, who do we think they will be appointing? At every step of the way black people in Columbus are not in the room to have this conversation,” says Ayres. 

She believes the entire CRB structure and powers will be on the table – even subpoena power. 

“I am pushing for it to have half the seats be elected and not appointed. [And the number of civilian African Americans on the board] at least have to be representative of the population, if not more,” says Ayres, who also told the Free Press if no one “runs against Mayor Ginther in three years, I will be running against the Mayor in three years.”

De-Escalate Ohio Now’s director and founder Cynthia Brown says if the community wants a legitimate CRB with teeth, it must continue to put pressure on elected officials. 

“I think good humans should be appointed to the board with absolutely no ties to law enforcement family and friends -- or none of the Mayor's or City Council members' personal friends or their supporters or backers, or established Democrats. The board members should have the abilities for full and complete accountability and transparency,” says Brown. “My goal is to build stronger relationships between communities and law enforcement agencies.” 

The next Civilian Review Board Work Group meeting is 4 pm on November 10th.