Columbus, Ohio, City Council Passes Police Reform Policy
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Less than two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man by a Columbus police officer, the City Council last week passed a comprehensive police reform policy it hopes will reduce the number of police-involved shootings in the city and lessen the lethal nature of those incidents that occur.
André’s Law, named for the victim of a police-involved shooting in December, requires police to activate body cameras upon exiting their vehicles and to provide medical support — including CPR — at a scene following a use-of-force incident.
André Hill, 47, was shot and killed by Columbus police officer Adam Coy on Dec. 22, after police received a non-emergency call from a neighbor who reportedly was concerned about an unknown individual parked in an SUV near their home.
Though Coy did not turn on his body camera as he emerged from his police cruiser, another officer who responded to the scene did.
It allegedly captured Coy, a 17-year member of the force, shooting Hill as he emerged from the garage holding a cellphone in his left hand. His right hand was not visible. The other officer on the scene, Amy Detweiler, said she didn’t perceive any threats and didn’t see a gun, contrary to claims by Coy that Hill was armed.
It has been reported that as Detweiler’s body cam continued to roll, a woman from inside the house where Hill was shot told the officers he had come over to bring her money for Christmas.
Only a week earlier, City Council President Shannon Hardin had attended the funeral of another Black man who’d been killed by a law enforcement officer in Columbus. When he received a text about the Hill shooting, he knew immediately that he needed to get to police department headquarters and view the video of the shooting.
“What I saw in the chief’s office was 12 unredacted minutes that show one of our Columbus police officers approaching, and within seconds shooting, an unarmed Black man,” Hardin said. “But in addition, he and other officers who arrived at the scene ignored the fact Hill was in need of medical aid.
“They just left him lying there, moaning and groaning in pain until he died,” he continued. “When the chief turned the video off, I said, ‘Well, I’m calling for the officer to be arrested.’”
Coy was arrested and was later charged with one count of murder, failure to use his body camera and failure to tell another officer he believed Hill presented a danger.
Upon his arrest, he was also fired from the force. He pleaded not guilty to the charges last week.
On Tuesday Coy’s attorney, Mark Collins, convinced the presiding judge in the case to reduce his client’s bond from $3 million to $1 million, arguing the higher amount far exceeded the bail set in other police-involved shootings.
Long before the preliminaries in the criminal case began, Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan instituted a new policy, making it a fireable offense if an officer fails to turn on their body camera or render aid when they do bodily harm.
Ultimately, however, many in Columbus saw those actions as too little, too late, and in January, Mayor Andrew Ginther demoted Quinlin, telling reporters the city had lost faith in the department’s “ability to change on its own.”
Hardin, a member of the New Deal Leaders, acknowledged that Quinlan did the right thing when he imposed the new policies after Hill’s death.
But he also felt it important that policies be put in place that couldn’t simply be changed by a future police chief.
That’s when he and his colleagues on the city council began working on Andre’s Law. In addition to the provisions already mentioned it also mandates that bodily harm caused by an officer acting in an egregious manner could be held criminally liable for dereliction of duty.
A final provision mandates that when an officer-involved shooting call comes across the city’s EMS radio system, an ambulance is immediately dispatched to the scene.
“We really worked hard to get it down in about three weeks,” Hardin said. “We ordinarily don’t like to rush legislation – so we can make sure we are getting it right — but in this case we felt it important to devote as much time and energy as we could to get this done sooner rather than later.”
But Hardin told The Well News more still needs to be done.
“We’re going through the budget process right now and one thing we need to do is equip our officers with both basic medical equipment and medical training – training that goes beyond CPR – so that officers can quickly respond to situations,” he said.
“Now, I could have included this as a provision of Andre’s Law, but I left it out on purpose because I didn’t want it to seem that if the officer who killed Mr. Hill had had a medic bag he would have done anything differently,” he continued. “Because as the tape made clear, the lack of a medic bag was not the impetus for him not rendering aid, he just didn’t. He just continued yelling and cussing at this guy.”
Hardin said he’s hopeful that when the Columbus City Council adopts its new budget next week, it will include money for additional medical training and equipment for the city’s police officers.
“When you use force in a situation the reason you should be using it is to make a situation safe,” he said. “But once the situation is safe, then I think your responsibility is to preserve life again. And I think this is a cultural thing as much as it is a procedural thing when it comes to how we police.
“You can’t ordain everything. Sometimes all you can do is set down expectations and have those expectations be part of the culture of how we do things,” he said. “That’s the message behind this law and the message behind the budget expenditure. It is a reminder that this is who we are – we preserve life – and that’s what we want our police officers to be, preservers of life.”
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