Boy holds sign that says Don't Shoot

Did you ever wonder where Columbus ranks in police shootings? We’re Number Two among the major cities in the United States. Only Las Vegas police officers kill more citizens per capita than Columbus.

 With the explosion of demonstrations and activism in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, the Free Press investigated the likelihood of police killings in Columbus. Although it is often difficult to get precise statistics that depend on state and local police cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Free Press obtained FBI data for so-called “justifiable homicides” from 2012. The results may surprise many.

 In the United States, 410 people died from police shootings. The 410 people were not in police custody at the time of the shooting, but were running away.

 This is a different measure than what the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) calls “custody or arrest-related deaths.” There were 4813 “custody or arrest-related deaths” in the nation between 2003-2009.

 Police shootings are “justified” under the standard established in the Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Gardner which allows a law enforcement officer to use deadly force to prevent escape of a fleeing suspect only if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or community members.

Big Apple can’t compete with Columbus cop shootings

 Columbus police killed one fleeing suspect per every 103,000 people in the city, according to FBI statistics. By contrast, in New York City with more than 8.4 million people, the police only shot 16 people in 2012, killing six. Columbus, less than 1/10th with 823,000 residents, had 14 police shootings with 8 people killed – two more than New York.

 Let us compare Columbus to other cities. Better yet, other states. Columbus police killed as many fleeing suspects in 2012 as the combined states of Delaware, Vermont, North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Connecticut and Idaho.

 In comparing Columbus to other cities, our police force shot as many citizens as the combined police forces of Boston, Buffalo, Denver, Detroit, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Portland and Seattle. Police only killed six people in these combined eight cities, two less than Columbus.

 Statistical disparities of this magnitude can only suggest that the Columbus police force is hiring the wrong people or training them incorrectly in the use of deadly force.

Lack of Civilian Review Board keeps us at the top of the death list

 The Columbus Police Department, aided by both the Mayor’s office and the City Attorney’s office, is cloaked in secrecy. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) endorsement is close to being political sacred for political candidates.

 For three years, the Columbus National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) quietly negotiated for a Civilian Review Board to look into the police use of violence. The FOP agreed to the creation of such a Board, but the agreement was vetoed by the first elected black mayor in the city’s history, Michael Coleman. He refused to allow an ordinance or city charter change passed to create the Review Board, but would allow it to exist just under his administration – without any permanence as an official entity.

 Without access to police records, it is difficult to find the reason for the deaths of fleeing suspects. A DOJ study released earlier this year, found that black people in Columbus were three times as likely to be stopped by the police for traffic violations.

Forget the taser – pull out the .44

 An initial search of Columbus media sources turned up 45 reports of police shootings between 2006 and 2014.

 One obvious pattern of Columbus police shootings involves citizens brandishing knives or being mentally ill. In many major cities, suspects with knives are identified and arrested by tactical units that are appropriately trained and shielded from knife threats. Columbus police appear to simply shoot people with knives. In four of the cases, people with knives were shot dead by the police.

 On January 3, 2014, a Columbus police officer shot and killed Patrick Jones described as developmentally disabled. Jones was shot because he allegedly “approached [the] officer with a knife.” Or take the case of Julie Caudill. On October 5, 2013, Julie’s husband, who was out of town, called the police, concerned with his wife’s welfare. She greeted the police at the door with her wrists slashed and holding a handgun. Police shot her to death.

 In the highly-publicized 2011 case of Obie Shepard, a 21-year-old black man, it began when police responded to a stolen bicycle report. When they arrived on the scene, police found Shepard on a bike and shot him dead. Police files on the shooting indicate that the police never confirmed whether or not the bike Shepard was riding was stolen. According to his attorney, Cliff Arnebeck, an eyewitness said Shepard was not carrying any weapon and they got the wrong guy. Police say they found a gun 100 yards away that they claimed a DNA test revealed was more likely handled by a black person than an Asian or Caucasian.

 FBI statistics indicate that one is far more likely to be shot if you are under the age of 21 and black than if you are young and white.

 Consider the 2010 case of Davon Burt, age 17, who was shot by police five times with a .44 magnum, according to police records. Incredibly, he lived to tell about it. Burt was shot by the aptly named Office Butcher and knocked to the ground. He swore under oath that the police officer walked up to him, asked him how old he was, and when he answered that he was 17, said “Jesus Christ!” and shot him four more times.

 The camera on the police cruiser was conveniently facing the other way, and was far enough away not to record the conversation between Burt and the officer.

Jump out boys jump the rates up

 Another pattern is reflected in the death of Edward Hayes. Numerous eyewitnesses report that Hayes had no weapon and repeatedly said “Please don’t shoot me, please don’t shoot me!” as he ran away, taking a bullet in the back. Hayes was shot after police responded to a report of a possible drug deal in the Mt. Vernon Ave. area. Officers were part of the so-called “Summer Safety Initiative” funded, in part, by federal dollars and targeted poor and minority communities.

 Officers trained in the Summer Safety Initiative (SSI) came to be known as the “jump out boys.” Overwhelmingly white, their basic approach was to use themselves as plainclothes bait for robbery in poor neighborhoods. When approached, other officers would jump out with guns drawn.

 According to a police internal memo, the “mission” of the SSI was to “target and reduce violent crime in high-risk neighborhoods identified by crime analysis information and officer input.” While one of the “goals” was to “identify and apprehend persons possessing firearms,” another goal was to “apprehend suspects involved in open air drug dealing.”

 One of the SSI’s major accomplishments was confiscating 77,743 grams of marijuana. If our drug laws were reformed like in Washington and Colorado, crime rates – and potentially the related police shootings – would decrease in Columbus.

 In the aftermath of the Ferguson incident and the high rate of police shootings in Columbus, the city may be facing a ticking time bomb. Some cities like Detroit only changed after a violent riot and an elected black mayor dedicated himself to stopping police violence. The unique aspect of Columbus is that our increasing incidence of police shootings has occurred under a black police chief and black mayor. The only question remaining is how long the community will tolerate the excessive deaths at the hands of those who are entrusted to protect and serve us.

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