November 8, 2019 11:23:00 AM
The handful of members who attended Thursday's Columbus Police Department Citizen Overview Committee meeting Thursday voted unanimously to make the group an ad hoc committee -- meaning they will meet only on an as-needed basis.
City Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong, one of the voting members of the board, said he suggested the move to Mayor Robert Smith and chair Steven James -- neither of whom were present at Thursday's meeting -- after repeated agendas at the meetings included only "old business" and "new business" without having anything concrete planned to discuss.
"I don't think anybody wants to meet just to meet. We've all got other things to do ... I just think we could best serve as an ad hoc committee and I hope there's not a reason we have to meet," Armstrong said. "... If there's a need then we certainly can convene and should convene.
"If we don't have an agenda, people (are) just not going to come, and I would rather if there's a need that we meet and people come than just say, 'Oh Lord, I've got to go up there in an hour,'" he added.
In addition to Armstrong, meeting attendees included members Colin Krieger and Lee Roy Lollar and CPD Capt. Ric Higgins, who was representing Chief Fred Shelton. Board members Lavonne Latham Harris and Tiffany Turner were not present.
The committee formed in 2015 and began meeting in 2016 in the wake of the Ricky Ball shooting. Former CPD officer Canyon Boykin shot and killed 26-year-old Ball after Ball ran from a traffic stop in north Columbus on Oct. 16, 2015. Boykin was indicted for manslaughter in September 2016 and his case is pending.
Smith and Ward 6 City Councilman Bill Gavin both said that at the time there was a need for the overview committee, which acted as an advisory group to the council and as a sort of liaison between the public and the police department.
"I think any time we get the citizens involved with the activities of the city, whether it's the police department or the fire department, we open up some transparency (for) the public and get input from the public on how they want the city run," Gavin said. "I think that's a real important aspect of the government is to get input from the citizens."
In particular, Smith said, if residents had a concern about the police department, they could call a committee member and have it addressed.
"If you had any concerns or issues about what was going on with your board or the police department, this would be a representative from your ward (on the committee)," Smith said. "It's been a plus, and concerning the Ricky Ball situation, it definitely was an asset as far as the innuendos, the hearsays, from people within in the community."
Still, both said there was no reason for the committee to meet just to meet.
"I think you should have meetings when things can be productive and you can discuss some things and business can actually be productive rather than saying they're going to have a scheduled meeting every month and not do anything," Gavin said. "But the good part about scheduled meetings is the public does know when they're meeting. ... So there's some good points and bad points about both."
Both Smith and Armstrong said the committee would meet "when there is a need." Armstrong told the committee he thinks anyone should be able to call James and ask the committee meet if that person has a valid concern about the police department.
"In other words, the committee still will be active in certain situations (when citizens are concerned about the state of the police department)," Smith said. "When incidents occur, then you call on this committee, so that was the idea."
Previously the committee met once every three months and mostly heard reports from Shelton on the size of the force, divisions within the department like the Crime Lab or Criminal Investigation Division and upcoming community engagement initiatives and events like job fairs and Coffee with a Cop.
Shelton was at a graduation ceremony of new officers from the police academy and could not be reached by press time.
City Public Information Officer Joe Dillon also took the opportunity during the meeting to elaborate on the city's new membership with SeeClickFix, a website which municipal governments can use to receive feedback from citizens. Specifically, citizens can go to the website and report a variety of issues, including everything from downed limbs and graffiti to drainage issues and streetlights that have gone out.
Dillon said starting next week, the city will also be able to take requests from citizens going on vacation who want police officers to go by their homes while they're out of town. This request, called Vacation Home Watch, will be the only type of request that other residents cannot see when they visit the website.
Dillon said so far the city has received about 40 requests for problems to be fixed since Tuesday evening's city council meeting.