President Pro Tempore and Finance Committee Chair Elizabeth Brown and several other Columbus City Council members held a virtual finance committee public hearing Tuesday afternoon that lasted long into the evening. The hearing was held to “discuss equipment purchased for and allowed to be purchased for by the police department.”
“I believe that in this country…we strive to have community-based safety forces,” Brown said during the hearing. “I believe for the protection of our residents, for that to exist, there should be a covenant between police and people that we are on the same side.”
In 2015, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order limiting the amount of military-grade gear going to police departments. In that executive order, there were two lists of military-grade weapons: prohibited and controlled.
In 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded that executive order, effectively opening the door to the militarization of police departments across the country.
Deputy Chief Michael Woods thoroughly listed the use of certain military-style equipment, not limited to weapons, and physical purchases by the Columbus Division of Police. Deputy Woods outlined the equipment that the CPD doesn’t possess as well.
Some of the prohibited items discussed included:
- Trekked armored vehicles – none owned by CPD
- Weaponized aircraft vessels /vehicles of any kind – none owned by CPD
- Firearms and ammunition of 50 caliber or higher – none owned by CPD
- Grenade launchers – none, but do use gas guns ($936 each)
- Camouflage uniforms – CPD wears a woodland pattern ($316/uniform)
Some of the controlled items discussed included:
- Helicopters – CPD ranks higher in helicopter fleet (six helicopters)
- Riot shields and batons – haven’t purchased new ones in 15 years ($200 each)
- M16 military rifles and gas guns
- Armored vehicles
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There are arguments to be made on both sides when it comes to using military-grade equipment. For example, the roar of helicopters may incite fear in communities, but they provide valuable community resources in locating missing persons or during natural disasters. And if their use is valid, is six excessive and even wasteful?
Columbus residents were encouraged to submit written testimony to Brown’s office and participate in the virtual press conference. Columbus City Council received an outpouring of community engagement, including 906 written comments and 69 speaker testimonies. Many spoke in length about the unprovoked and violent force used by the police since the protests started at the end of May.
“The overwhelming public engagement we received is more evidence of the urgent need to think differently about how we keep every resident safe in our city. I’m grateful to the nearly 1,000 people who lent their voices. I also appreciate (the) Division of Police personnel for providing information to Council and residents — they answered some important questions, and we will continue to ask more questions. Creating public policy is not just putting words on paper; it’s about making a difference in people’s lives. We are all better prepared for that job by having given residents the mic last night.”President Pro Tempore and Finance Committee Chair Elizabeth Brown said in a statement to (614)
Those who spoke included the Department of Finance Director Joe Lombardi, Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Chair Mitchell J. Brown, Director of Public Safety Ned Pettus, and several other council members.
Before the list of prohibited and controlled equipment was outlined by Woods, Lombardi went through the process that the city goes through when setting a specific budget. Here is the procedure for 2021:
- The budget process begins in June, and the Department of Finance puts together target budgets; target budgets are based on estimates of available resources from following fiscal year
- A series of meetings will take place between August and October
- Budget is adopted in February
(614) reached out to the CPD for comment after the press conference and had not received a response at the time of publishing.