Police reach out to westside community

By Michelle Dupler
Staff Writer

Both national events and local concerns were on the minds of Columbus residents during a Westside meeting on March 2 with Police Chief Kim Jacobs.

Jacobs and other police and community leaders are in the midst of a series of five community meetings as part of a “listening tour” in which Jacobs is soliciting questions and concerns from local people.

The March 2 meeting was held at Briggs High School and drew about 100 people to the audience.

“One of the things we wanted to do is give you the opportunity to tell me what you want us to do,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs offered some statistics about the Columbus Police Department and crime in the five zones that make up the department’s jurisdiction. Noteworthy among those is that there are about 1,900 officers covering an area that includes 222 square miles of land and more than 820,000 people.

That’s about one officer for every 432 people, which compares favorably to the national average of one officer per 588 people in cities with more than 50,000 people.

For Westside residents, another noteworthy set of statistics is that the zone that includes west Columbus neighborhoods leads the city in the numbers of kidnappings, forcible rapes and aggravated assaults reported.

Jacobs, who once patrolled west Columbus as a beat officer, spent about 90 minutes taking questions from audience members, with their concerns ranging from children who play basketball in the streets to how police are trained to handle disturbances involving people with mental illness.

One man in the audience told the story of the day his daughter committed suicide. Police responded while he was administering CPR, and told the man to leave.

“When I was giving CPR, the officer looked at me like a criminal,” the man told Jacobs. “He should have been down there helping me.”

Another man stood up to ask about the spate of police-involved shootings that have made national headlines since protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., in August in the wake of the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown.

Wearing a t-shirt that read “Racism is Terrorism,” he spoke emotionally about the deaths of Brown and 12-year-old Cleveland boy Tamir Rice, and asked Jacobs why so many people with mental illnesses and blacks are being killed in altercations with police.

That prompted a woman in the audience to defend police by shouting, “He needs to pipe down. He’s being disrespectful.”

Jacobs said that in the current system, police are going to come into contact with people with mental illnesses, and that 228 of her officers currently have special training to handle incidents involving people in mental health crises.

She also noted that under Ohio’s public records laws, every investigation into an officer-involved shooting is available for anyone in the public to read and decide whether the right decision was made.

“Read one and tell me what you think,” Jacobs said.

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