May 2021

Community, religious leaders react to Columbus police chief candidate forum

Courtesy of ABC6/Fox 28
By Kalea Gunderson
May 19, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — Community and religious leaders were keeping a close eye on the community forum with the four Columbus Police chief finalists Wednesday night.

Taking rigorous notes, President and CEO of the Columbus Urban League Stephanie Hightower listened to the finalists share their visions for what policing in Columbus could look like.

Hightower said Assistant Chief for Dallas Police Avery Moore and Ivonne Roman, who served with Newark, New Jersey police for around 25 years, hit on many of the points she was listening for.

“Ivonne talked about her personal experience. She had the courage to say “systemic racism” which we know a lot of people don’t want to say and use that word as it relates to policing,” Hightower said.

Rev. Tim Ahrens, leader of the First Congregational Church in downtown Columbus, said he was hoping to hear about anti-racism specifically.

“I was listening and listening through the whole thing for ‘we will be an anti-racist police organization.’ I think police are afraid to say that, and that’s exactly what needs to happen,” Ahrens said.

He sees Roman as one of the front runners alongside Fort Myers Chief Derrick Diggs

“I also think Derek Diggs reminds me of somebody who just gets down and does the job. Somebody’s going to say he was reading his final statement, and I say he prepared a final statement. He was not playing games. He was not making it up on the fly,” Ahrens said.

Hightower took it as disingenuous.

“That’s not authentic to me. You could’ve sent me a written statement if that’s, you know… It’s a little frustrating to see someone reading,” Hightower said.

However, she was impressed by Detroit Police Deputy Chief Elaine Bryant’s passion for diversity in leadership, having not only women, but women of color as leaders in the department, and not only serving the LGBTQ+ community but recruiting and hiring them to be officers.

Community, religious leaders react to forum with Columbus police chief candidates

“In particular, that you have a trans officer, that you are in a position to lift that person up. Those are important points,” Hightower said.

One candidate made their mark before the forum began. Moore visited Columbus to talk to the people he would lead and serve as chief, including Hightower.

“He went over and met with police officers so he got to hear the real skinny from some of those police officers, and it wasn’t all flattering, but he said there’s great police officers there, and we do know that he met with some of the community activists, people that maybe wouldn’t be on other people’s list. I gave him some names, and he met with them,” Hightower said.

Ahrens is hoping beyond this point, the community keeps a row seat to this process and is not kept in the dark.

“The doors were closed to the community, we weren’t a part of it and now we’re supposed to all wrap our arms around the mayor and the staff and say ‘this is beautiful.’ Well, it hasn’t involved the community until this moment so we’re going to need a very trustworthy and transparent person to step into a city right now that is suffering from lack of both,” Ahrens said.

We reached out to the FOP to ask if its leadership would be sharing a response to what they heard from the four finalists, but we have not heard back.

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