COLUMBUS, Ohio – The next police chief of Columbus must come from outside the agency and through a national search, community activists critical of policing in Ohio's largest city insisted Friday.
Former Chief Thomas Quinlan, demoted Thursday by Mayor Andrew Ginther, was a 30-year member of the agency and was unlikely to make the big changes needed because of his career there, the activists said.
“We need someone who can come with a fresh lens that didn’t grow up in the culture of Columbus Division of Police or the culture of policing within the state of Ohio,” said Chenelle Jones, a dean of community engagement at Franklin University and a member of a police reform commission convened two years ago by Ginther.
The next chief should be Black and preferably a woman, Jones said, saying she believes Black women can be transformative leaders by communicating effectively.
Columbus has never had a Black female chief. James Jackson, a Black man, served for nearly two decades before retiring in 2009. Kim Jacobs, a white woman, served for seven years.
An outside candidate could more effectively address systemic racism in the agency and racist policing techniques, said J. Love Benton, a Columbus State Community College education professor who served on Quinlan's civilian advisory group.
“The next chief should be someone who believes in diversity, that believes in equity, that believes in equality, that believes in justice, and that would be willing to hold their police officers accountable for how they engage and how they serve the citizens of Columbus,” Benton said.
Records reviewed by The Associated Press show that Black residents, about 28% of the Columbus population, accounted for about half of all use-of-force incidents from 2015 through 2019.
Columbus police have a “significant disparity of use of force against minority residents” that the city must address, according to a 2019 city-commissioned report by Matrix Consulting Group.
Quinlan, who is white, was selected for by Ginther in December 2019. He was chosen over Perry Tarrant, a former assistant police chief in Seattle, who is Black. At the time, Ginther said Quinlan must address racism within the department’s ranks, including further diversifying the department.
Ginther, a Democrat, said a new national search will be conducted for the next chief, though activists note the last national search ended in an internal hire. If Seattle's Tarrant isn't chosen this time, they say, taxpayer money spent on a national search shouldn't result in another internal hire.
“We asked for Perry Tarrant to be the chief and Andrew Ginther did what he wanted to do, which was promote Tom Quinlan to that role,” said Paisha Thomas, 46, an artist and racial justice activist. “So I think Mayor Ginther would do well to call Perry Tarrant now and ask him to reconsider accepting the position for chief of police in Columbus.” A message was left with Tarrant seeking comment.
While activists like Thomas welcomed the news of Quinlan's demotion to deputy chief, they warned it is not enough to turn the page on the city's history of using force against Black men and children. Many called for him to be fired.
“I think a new chief would be a start," Thomas said. “But I think that decades-long systemic racism is not going to be changed in one fell swoop.”
Quinlan said Thursday he had hoped to stay in the position but respected the decision. He said he accomplished a lot as chief.
In late December, Adam Coy, a white police officer, was fired after shooting Andre Hill, a Black man, in December as Hill walked out of a garage holding a cellphone. Anger over the killing grew as bodycam video showed that officers failed to help Hill as he lay moaning on a garage floor.
The head of the union representing Columbus police officers questioned whether now is the right time for an outsider.
“If you bring someone in from somewhere else, they may be great, but there is a learning curve and I just don’t know if now is time for a learning curve,” Keith Ferrell told WSYX-TV Wednesday.
As calls mounted for change in the wake of Hill's killing, Ferrell told The Associated Press this month there is always room for improvement, but said, "I do not believe in any way, shape or form our department is so broken that it needs a complete overhaul.”
The Columbus Division of Police — like many big-city agencies — is juggling calls for internal change even as it battles unprecedented street violence. Columbus, a city of over 900,000 people, saw a record 174 homicides last year and so far is averaging just short of one a day this year.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Chenelle Jones' first name.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.