As record homicides continue, Ginther announces plans to allocate $660M on public safety

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Allison Ward
November 9, 2021

A little more than 24 hours after Columbus tied the homicide record it set in 2020, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther unveiled his $660 million spending plan for the Department of Public Safety in his proposed 2022 operating budget.

The proposal will provide funds for three new recruit classes — which will add 170 new police officers and 125 new firefighters in an effort to keep staffing from retirements and other departures at current levels — as well as officer wellness and retirement incentive programs, Ginther said. The budget will also invest heavily in community and neighborhood services, including youth programs and mental health inventions.

“As I’ve said before many times and it bears repeating now, our city is at a crossroads,” Ginther said from a podium outside the Columbus Urban League in the King-Lincoln Arts District. “How we recover and rebuild from an unprecedented time in our history matters. We must make informed and forward-thinking decisions now. We are embracing collaboration and flexibility to generate the most effective and responsive solutions to the host of challenges facing Columbus.”

Flanked by a number of government and community officials, who spoke about their respective efforts to curb violence in the city, Ginther said he’d deliver his budget, which includes the $660 million for public safety and represents 64% of the general budget, to the Columbus City Council next week.

Ginther said the public safety department has already undergone “sweeping changes” this year, including hiring police chief, Elaine Bryant from outside the force, changing its use-of-force policies and establishing a civilian review board.

The department piloted an alternative response unit program that embeds social workers and mental health professionals with 911 dispatchers to help them send the appropriate authorities. The new budget will add $5 million to expand that program for all of 2022.

“This underscores a meaningful and pertinent truth — we cannot solely police our way beyond the status quo,” Ginther said. “Our strategies will not succeed unless they address the root causes of crime.”

The mayor’s and the Division of Police’s current public safety strategies continue to come under fire as a man in his 20s was shot and killed Monday morning in front of the main entrance to Target store at Morse Crossing near Easton Town Center. That death marked the 175th homicide in the city, tying the record set in 2020.

A report released by a national research center in October concluded that a significantly small group of violent actors in Columbus were behind nearly half the city’s homicides that occurred in a nine-month period in 2020, the city’s deadliest year on record, leading many officials and community members to look at enhancing community programming for youth to keep them off the streets.

Dominic Jones, who runs Legacy U and the Legacy Youth Football League, spoke Tuesday to demonstrate how organizations like his are making an impact with the help of funds from the city.

The budget will continue to fund programs like his as well as ones like Teens and Police Service, which allows a child to be mentored by a police officer, and the Columbus CARE Coalition, which helps families who have been impacted by violence.

The newly appointed Public Safety Director Robert Clark stressed the importance of not only rebuilding trust through enhancing the body-worn camera system of the department — another budget item — but also how everyone in the community has to reach today’s youth.

“We recognize we have to meet our children much earlier than when they get into high school,” he said. “We’ve not mentioned and I share this with the public who will hear this and read this, we need your partnership, we need your engagement and we look forward to partnering with you in a proactive way, not just reactive, to bring health healing and restoration that we all want to see in the city of Columbus.”

When pressed about why the city is still experiencing so much violence despite anti-violence programs funded in the past, Ginther said they’ve been able to reduce violence previously, such as when homicides hit a record in 2017 that they were able to reverse the following two years.

“We think this comprehensive approach is the best way forward,” he said. “What we said before is we’re going to look at the results and the data and we’re going to invest in things that are working and stop doing things that aren’t working … I also believe we’re not going see the results of some of these things overnight. We didn’t before and we’re not going to this year, but you do have our commitment to do everything in our power.”

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