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It is no secret that many believe the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Capital City Lodge 9 and its union members have strong-armed their way into having too much control over how the Division polices Columbus citizens with minimal chance of being held accountable for their actions.

Local activists believe FOP Capital City Lodge 9 can be brazen, toxic and indifferent to those they serve.

They endorsed Trump for President last year even though many residents they serve heartedly rejected Trump. They threatened to charge Congresswoman Joyce Beatty with assaulting an officer after she was maced during that fateful Saturday afternoon, May 30, 2020, during George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests. They mocked Lebron James after he was critical of the Ma’Khia Bryant shooting by police.

FOP Capital City Lodge 9 likes to praise heroic officers on their Twitter and Facebook pages, and officers should be commended for a dangerous job well done – if done professionally.

But missing recently on the FOP’s social media accounts was a congratulation or even a mention of Police Chief Elaine Bryant when Mayor Ginther announced her hiring. They did speak to local broadcast news, though.

“I think Chief (Elaine) Bryant is going to be welcomed and is going to do a fine, fine job here, and I look forward to working with her and supporting her,” said Brian Steele, vice president for FOP Capital City Lodge 9, to Channel 4 news.

Steele added, “The community is expecting maybe a different kind of police department, and a different way of policing. And we realize as police officers and FOP, we serve the public. So if we get a clear, clear-cut direction from the community we serve on which way we’re going, we’re 100 percent going to follow that and work with the new chief to attain those goals.”

FOP Capital City Lodge 9 may say one thing to local news cameras but is this their true intention?

As Police Chief Elaine Bryant takes leadership, the first police chief in Columbus history with no previous connection to the Division or the FOP for that matter, a legal motion filed earlier this year by FOP Capital City Lodge 9 may suggest whether they have the will to change Columbus police into a “21st-century Division of Police that meets our community expectations,” as stated by Mayor Ginther.

During initial testimony for the ongoing civil rights suit Alsaada v. City of Columbus, which also names several Columbus police officers as defendants, the FOP filed a Motion to Intervene, or asking to be admitted into the lawsuit, as the union was not named as a defendant.

The FOP’s motion can be viewed here but needs registration for access (see file #14, on 1/26/21).

Alsaadaplaintiff attorney Fred Gittes believes it was a brazen move on the part of FOP Capital City Lodge 9 because they knew Alsaada presiding federal Judge Algenon Marbley would issue injunctions to the Columbus police, which the judge did in May, ordering them to stop using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against nonviolent protesters.

Judge Marbley granted the FOP’s Motion to Intervene, thus FOP Capital City Lodge 9 has become a defendant in Alsaada and could appeal any injunction or orders given by Marbley.

City spokesperson Robin Davis told the Free Press the City had no influence over the FOP’s decision to join the civil suit. “The FOP is a separate entity who independently moved to intervene. They argued that they have standing to intervene because the City doesn’t represent their interests.”

To be clear, FOP Capital City Lodge 9 is a labor union and should not have any substantial power over Columbus police tactics, training or how they police and discipline themselves. This power, these decisions, are to be made by the community, its elected government officials, and the City’s Department of Public Safety.

“They’re clearly trying to exert as much control as they can over the policies and practices of the Division,” said Gittes to the Free Press. “This shows you just how powerful they think they should be.”

In essence, this Motion to Intervene suggests the FOP believes officers on our streets have the right to control what level of force can be used against civilians, what weapons can be used, and how they are trained.

“The FOP has negotiated for years about discipline procedures, but what is different about this is, they’re claiming they have an interest in not whether an officer is sued, but what weapons and what tactics the Division use, what training is done, what weapons can be used and assigned to officers, when forced can be used and when it can’t be used, what the limits of force are,” said Gittes.

He added, “They’ll be able to argue about this because the judge has allowed them in. The case has implications for everything else. The FOP has never sought or gotten involved in filing grievances or negotiating those kinds of things, what weapons, what tactics, what kind of training. To our knowledge that has never been the subject of negotiations before. The deputy chiefs, the Mayor, all confirmed the FOP has never gotten involved in negotiating those kinds of things. But now they’ll be able to argue about it because the judge has allowed them in as a party.”

Gittes believes the notion of the FOP becoming a party regarding the non-contractual issues such as weapons, tactics and training, can distort the ability of the public of having any control over police violence, training and tactics.

“Our nation’s history is based on civilian control of police organizations. Now our FOP is asking to have a say-so, and in some cases, veto power over the most fundament aspects of policing, which has nothing to do with healthcare benefits, or leave time or salary,” he said.“Our case [Alsaada vs. City of Columbus] isn’t about their wages, not about their vacations, not about their healthcare. It’s not about the normal things a labor union takes care of. Our case is about excessive use of force, what weapons they can use. That was our point.”

The labor contract between the City and the FOP expired last December, and the City has repeatedly told the Free Press “negotiations are ongoing.” 

Gittes and other plaintiff attorneys argued against Judge Marbley’s ruling to allow the FOP into Alsaada but he “didn’t agree with us.”

Nevertheless, the FOP could appeal Judge Marbley’s injunction ordering Columbus police to not use tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against non-violent protesters. In the meantime, if Columbus police were to defy these orders, Judge Marbley could hold them in contempt, which could lead to severe fines or possibly jail time for individual officers.

The Free Press asked the FOP attorneys (Harshman & Wannemacher)who filed the Motion to Intervene for a statement but none was given.