EDITOR’S NOTE: In a municipal election marked by exceptionally divisive language and increasingly irresponsible attacks, the actual issues facing Columbus have often been lost. Each day this week, The Dispatch will present an editorial exploring the issues most often cited by readers and candidates. Many of these issues are the same for all Golden Triangle municipalities. Please make plans to vote June 8.
There are few issues that animate public opinion during an election cycle more than crime, so the recent uptick in violent crime in Columbus is an issue that cannot be ignored.
Does Columbus have a crime problem? Yes.
Is it somehow exclusive to our city? Hardly.
For the last decade or so, the perception of Columbus as a city rife with random, often violent crime, has been a stubborn part of the city’s narrative.
Folks want to know what our police department, mayor and city council intend to do about it.
Of late, the city has taken to proposing cameras and lights in crime hotspots. Notifying the community of crime has also been stated as a priority, though that has not materialized in any sustained way.
The most recurring solutions we hear concern beefing up the city’s police department and implementing a community policing program.
These are not new ideas, of course.
Four years ago, the city hired a police consultant to conduct a study of the city’s police department. In addition to questioning the leadership ability of then-police chief Oscar Lewis, who retired at the end of that year, the report noted police staffing had fallen by 30 percent in 2016, alone. The department was seriously understaffed.
The report said once the city had increased its staffing it should pursue a community-policing approach, assigning officers to specific areas of the city with the idea that familiarity with the neighborhood could help build relationships between police and residents in those neighborhoods. The consultant said the CPD needed newer, better equipment.
Aggressive marketing and job fairs briefly gave a bump to CPD staffing levels, but the department was never able to hire as many officers as they had budgeted.
Now, four years later, the same issues — and same solutions — have emerged.
It has also been noted that there is a deficit of veteran officers in the department.
That isn’t a new phenomenon, either.
Upon being hired as the city’s police chief in 2011, Selvain McQueen noted the shortage of veteran officers and said the city needed to address that issue by recruiting experienced officers rather than relying on inexperienced recruits.
McQueen also said the success of the department would rely on building strong relationships with churches, civic organizations and residents where crime was especially persistent.
One bright spot of late has been the creation of the Police Oversight Committee, which has often worked to improve transparency and the relationship between citizens and police. The city, to its credit, has been mostly open to feedback from the committee.
The problems are well-defined, and the offered solutions are not new.
Why can’t we recruit and retain officers?
If community policing could be implemented with a fully staffed force, would that actually work to deter crime?
How could we implement a more holistic approach to crime that addresses our youth?
Those are the questions that must be answered.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.