Finalists for Columbus' first inspector general all cite need for transparency in role

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Four finalists for the role of Columbus' first inspector general, who will oversee investigations into alleged police misconduct, appeared Thursday during a virtual town hall to answer questions and discuss how they would approach the position.
Four finalists for the role of Columbus' first inspector general, who will oversee investigations into alleged police misconduct, appeared Thursday during a virtual town hall to answer questions and discuss how they would approach the position.

Amid ongoing efforts to reform policing in Columbus, the four remaining candidates vying to become the city's first inspector general on Thursday all cited the need for transparency, objectivity and trust while investigating alleged police misconduct.

The finalists — Pamela Davis, David Harper, Jacqueline Hendricks-Moore and Rena Shak — winnowed from an original pool of nearly 30 applicants from across the country, talked during a virtual public forum about their philosophy for the position and how their previous career experience would serve them in the leadership role.

Previous coverage: Columbus council adopts news rules for Civilian Police Review Board

The 90-minute town hall, which was streamed on the city's YouTube and Facebook pages, as well as on CTV, was viewed by approximately 40 to 50 people. The event was moderated by Mo Wright, president and CEO of RAMA Consulting Group.

The four each emphasized the need to build trust with both community members and the police they may be tasked with investigating. The candidates also addressed how quickly they envision putting together their staff and team of investigators, and how they would seek to overcome pressure of other stakeholders such as the Fraternal Order of Police Capitol City Lodge No. 9, which is not commenting on the finalists for inspector general.

More on the candidates: Four finalists for Columbus' first Inspector General to speak at community town hall

"I see this position as an incredible opportunity to build a bridge that is so needed right now between community members and CPD so that we are holding our Columbus Division of Police to the highest standards," said Shak, a staff attorney for the Franklin County Public Defender's office and the only finalist from Greater Columbus.

Harper serves as the appointed Inspector General for the state of Florida's Department of Financial Services.

The remaining two finalists hail from Detroit: Davis, a former chief investigator for the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners; and Hendricks-Moore, a senior investigator for Detroit's Office of the Inspector General.

The Detroit Police Department is where Columbus police Chief Bryant and Assistant Chief LaShanna Potts served before being hired by Columbus in June. Though Hendricks-Moore said she did not personally know Bryant, Davis said that she did.

Davis said Bryant was one of five sergeants assigned to help tackle the backlog of complaints in her office during Davis' time as a chief investigator, but Bryant moved back to the police department when those cases were resolved.

"We have a mutual respect for each other, but we're not bosom buddies," Davis said. "I have no problem separating my job and doing my job from the police department and my relationship with her."

The 11-member Civilian Police Review Board, which voters approved in November 2020 for the purpose of conducting investigations into potential police officer misconduct, will choose the inspector general to be appointed by Mayor Andrew J. Ginther to a five-year term with an option for a second five-year term.

Speaking before the town hall began, Ginther touted the police reforms either already in place or in the works that the inspector general would help advance and sustain. That included a recent federal court ruling permanently barring police officers from using force on peaceful protesters, which was part of a $5.75 million settlement with more than two-dozen plaintiffs who said they were brutalized by police during protests in the summer of 2020.

Police reform: 'That's not good law enforcement,' says attorney for protesters getting $5.75M settlement

"All of these changes bring us closer to more fully embodying community policing policies and practices, and instituting vital reforms to restore trust and confidence between community and law enforcement,” Ginther said.

For subscribers: What will Columbus' ongoing police reform look like in 2022?

Hendricks-Moore said her experience working in law enforcement will help her build credibility with those she'd be charged with investigating.

"I've been on both sides of the badge," said Hendricks-Moore. "Being on both sides of the badge is understating the role of what an officer does and making sure they do the job, and also holding officers accountable."

Davis said one of her main priorities would be to engage the community about what they expect from her office and to educate them on how she plans to operate it.

"It's the community's office so they would have to be involved in the preparation of it,” Davis said.

Harper said one of his priorities would be to meet with civic associations, faith leaders and other community organizations to have an open dialogue and emphasize accountability with his office.

Previous related coverage: Arbitrator rules some Columbus officers can't be forced to testify in police investigation

"It's easy to lose that credibility. It's hard to maintain it, but you have to," Harper said. "That credibility is based on consistency."

Shak said she thinks the past five years has been a turning point in police and community relations in Columbus as high-profile police killings of residents, many of them Black, have formed a wedge. She said whoever becomes the inspector general will have to lead the charge in repairing those divisions.

“The work of the inspector general's office," Shak said, "is going to be vitally important to the work that is being done to reform criminal justice in Columbus, Ohio.”

The search firm Ralph Andersen and Associates, which also helped the city in searches for the chiefs of the police and fire divisions, narrowed the pool of 29 finalists to a smaller group of 13 in December before selecting the four finalists from among that group.

The Columbus City Council voted in July to allocate $1 million to fund the operations of the Office of Inspector General

Any Columbus resident with feedback or questions on the process is invited to send an email to civilianreviewboard@columbus.gov.

Eric Lagatta is a reporter at the Columbus Dispatch covering public safety, breaking news and social justice issues. Reach him at elagatta@dispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter

@EricLagatta

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Virtual forum held for Columbus inspector gneral finalists

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