Steal This Story: An Army of Occupation

FOR MORE INFO ON THIS STORY, email: maweber@ix.netcom.comHEADLINE: "An Army of Occupation"SUBHEAD: If home is where the heart is, most Columbus cops don't have their heart in their workDriving around Columbus you can often find two police officers, one white and the other African-American, working side by side to protect the city and its residents. But as their shift ends, the two part ways: the black officer, more than likely, will make his way back to a house in the city while his partner takes to the highways heading out of town--even out of the county--to his suburban residence.A Columbus Guardian investigation has found that white police officers are 25 times more likely to live outside Franklin County than their African-American counterparts. Over one-fourth of the Caucasian officers live outside the county, in contrast to blacks who reside in Columbus in almost four out of every five cases, and outside the county only 6.3 percent of the time.There are more white Columbus police officers living outside of Franklin County (355) than the total number of African-American officers on the force (222).The effect of this dynamic is even more striking as you move higher up in the police ranks, with top officers living in greater numbers outside Franklin County than in Columbus, as well as being almost exclusively white and male. One former Municipal Court bailiff said there was a running joke in the halls of justice during his tenure in the 1980s: "Patrolmen live in Grove City. When they move up to sergeant they move to Hilliard, Westerville, or Pataskala. I don't think it has changed. It's been my experience that white police officers don't live in Columbus."Top city officials see nothing wrong with this pattern, but representatives of black professional and civic organizations say it is the basis for much of the racial tension within the police force, and between the police and the people of Columbus.Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association, calls non-resident police "an occupying army. They have no vested interest in the city. It's just a job to them.""Everyone is entitled to an opinion," responds David Robinson spokesman for Mayor Greg Lashutka. "But that's not one the Mayor shares, nor do I think the members of the city council share."Tensions between the African-American community and the police force have been running very high in Columbus in recent years. The Black community has criticized the police for being racially insensitive, citing several incidents including the beating of an off-duty African-American police officer, Jonathan Little, by white officers this past September as an example of the problem.The City has tried to improve its image by instituting a community policing program which puts more foot patrols into inner city neighborhoods. These officers receive special training including racial sensitivity, but most white cops still turn around every night and head out of the city, and in some cases totally out of the county.Nearly two-thirds of the police forces in the country-- including Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, and Indianapolis--require police officers to live where they work.Defending Columbus' lack of a residency requirement, Robinson says,"Our goal is to get the best most qualified person. Residency requirements sound good on paper, but it doesn't always happen that way."But Hampton questions a policy that produces a force in need of extra training in racial sensitivity, "You have to institutionalize sensitivity, cultural and diversity training. It should not be an afterthought."James Moss, a former police sergeant and head of the Police Officers for Equal Rights (POER), strongly supports residency requirements. "It sends a bad message to the inner city people when it looks like police officers are more interested in the suburbs."Moss' support for police residency requirement is seconded by the National Black Police Association. The NBPA does not see residency as a panacea for racial strife, but does believe that it is an important component of building a racially sensitive, diverse police force.In cities where no residence is required the driving force behind that policy is usually the local police union. Predictably, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) differs with POER and the NBPA on whether residency has an effect on quality of policing. Michael Tanner, the local FOP lodge president, says, "My members don't buy into that philosophy."Tanner pointed out that police officers live where they do based on many external factors: "It depends on the quality of life. A lot of officers come from a rural life style and like it."The question of where officers live is a hotly debated topic in many cities. Both Cleveland and Cincinnati have changed their residency requirements over the last two decades, going back and forth between the city limits and the county line, but have not expanded beyond those boundaries. "There are no empirical studies to my knowledge one way or the other," Tanner says.But Fred Gittes, attorney for POER, has a different perspective: "I've never heard an explanation of how it could be better for the city if policemen don't live here."Sgt. Moss recalls that during the mid-eighties he, too, moved out of the city. He bought a home in the suburban community of Pataskala in Licking County, where only a few African-Americans live and most of them are connected to law enforcement. After spending a year outside the city limits he moved back. He had found that he was still spending majority of his time in Columbus, but now at the end of the evening he would have to start his commute to his new home.Although Moss was unable to enjoy living outside Columbus, 369 police officers do--but only 14 of them are African-Americans. While the force as a whole finds suburban living comfortable, most of the African-American officers stick to Columbus, with 174 out of 222 (or 78.4 percent) residing in the city.But changing the system is not easy. Tanner says the city could not effect any change until the current police union contract expires in December 1996.He also raises an argument made by Lashutka, that limiting recruitment to the city or even the county would make recruiting qualified candidates more difficult. Lashutka late last year even suggested that the city may have to expand its search for qualified candidates-- especially African Americans--beyond Franklin and the adjoining six counties. "We are looking for the most qualified person," Robinson said "That should be our goal. Quite frankly it makes less sense than before to limit our search."This argument is hard to understand, since other major cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland have found significant numbers of African-Americans to work as police officers in their cities or counties without having to draw from a larger area.Lieutenant Ramsey, spokesman for the Cincinnati Police Department, says there has been a tug of war between that city and the Fraternal Order of Police over where police officers should live: "It is the city's preference that police officers live within the city." Currently local civil service rules call for all city employees to live within Hamilton County, but that rule has gone back and forth three times in the last decade between the city limits and the county line.Columbus' current civil service requirements for residency were set during a general charter revision in 1970. It finalized a policy that had been evolving from the 1950s when all city employees were required to live within Columbus. The rules were eventually stretched to encompass first Franklin County, and finally also the six adjoining counties, in a public referendum in 1970.In the past, residency requirements were often used by segregated municipalities to exclude African Americans from public employment. Today, after four decades of civil rights struggle, the situation has turned on its head: the absence of a residency requirement in cities sculpted by white flight to the suburbs is now a powerful tool for maintaining segregation."Police officers represent the city," says Common Cause/Ohio executive director Janet Lewis. Commenting on the aggregate effect of individual officers' choices, she adds, "It (the pattern of where CDP officers live) seems too much of a coincidence. This really looks like racially designated elitism."But Sgt. Moss goes even further, alleging that even the loosely drawn residency regulations are flouted by police officers who live outside the designated seven county area but maintain addresses within the area to technically comply with the City Charter. Moss would not name names, and the Columbus Guardian could not confirm these allegations using the records provided by the city. All the police officers' listed addresses are in the mandated area.In a number of other cities, however, like Detroit and Jacksonville, police officers were found to be using bogus addresses to fulfill residency requirements. Each of these cities maintains an investigations unit to check on residency fraud.Columbus started a citywide program in 1994 to identify civil servants--including police--who could be evading Columbus' minimal residency requirement. According to Lynn Carter, deputy director of the Civil Service Commission, 35 people have been identified as possibly living outside the designated area. Of these possible scofflaws, 94 percent actually live inside the seven county area but maintain postal addresses outside the lines. No final action has yet been taken against any city employee for this subterfuge.Carter defended the investigative program as both proactive and effective, even though all cases initiated so far were based on filed complaints or examination of paper records, and the commission employs no investigators.As of September 29, 1995--when the data for this Columbus Guardian report was provided by the city--the police department had 1,611 sworn police personnel. The total included one chief, five deputy chiefs, 17 commanders, 49 lieutenants, 179 sergeants and 1360 police officers.African-Americans make up 13.75 percent of the department, including the chief, one commander, two lieutenants, 32 sergeants and 186 officers. The only group in which African-Americans are represented in greater numbers than their percentage of the total population is sergeants, where they make up slightly under 18 percent.A look at the very top leadership of the police force as of this date shows 23 people in the top three leadership titles: chief, deputy chief and commander. Only two of these officers are African-American, and none are women. Since this data was released, Kimberly Jacobs was promoted to commander, becoming the first female officer in the top- ranking position (see Columbus Guardian, December 21, 1995).While only seven of the 23 top officers are city residents, the glaring figure is that an additional eight individuals out of the same group of police leaders don't even live in Franklin County.The five largest concentrations of sworn police officers by zip code are in Pickerington (92 officers); Gahanna (88); Reynoldsburg (87); Grove City (86); and Westerville (80). The largest number of police officers in a Columbus zip code is on the far west side (43228) with 78 officers. The other zips in Columbus with more than 35 officers are 43232 in the southeast (63); 43229 in the far north (60); and 43204 on the West Side (49).While Pickerington, Gahanna, and Reynoldsburg areas have a reasonably balanced mix of white and black police officers, Grove City and Westerville areas have only three African-American officers residing there, compared to 163 Caucasian peers.No other factor--including gender or date of hire--has any significant correlation with the current living patterns of the Columbus Division of Police.During a recent radio call-in show featuring Columbus Guardian staffers, the most frequently asked question concerned the issue of where police live, with callers questioning the appropriateness of the current situation. One African-American activist, Roberta Booth, said that her organization is seriously considering putting the issue of police residency on the ballot. Booth would not commit her organization more than to say that the Council of Southside Organizations would study the issue: "We need to find out why so many policemen don't live in the city."Any attempt to change the city charter requirements will need the support of the city council. When the Columbus Dispatch raised the issue in 1991, a number of city council members said they were going to look at it, but no hearings were ever held.Ronald Hampton of the NBPA says that just getting more African-American police officers is not enough. He equates police training to military boot camp, where trainees are indoctrinated into police society. "There aren't many James Mosses out there. Too many police officers rely on brute strength."He calls for innovative programs like a cadet corps for underage young people who then join the police force when they reach the minimum legal limit. He also suggested incentives like providing housing and giving preference to city dwellers in both hiring and promotion.Janet Lewis of Common Cause/Ohio thinks this may be the moment for Columbus to make a change. "The best argument for there to be a requirement in place is if it looks like a question of race. The public perception (of the problems posed by non-resident police) is better. And public relations," Lewis concludes, "is certainly one area where the police force could do a better job.PHOTO CAPTION:United we stand? Black and white Columbus police officers in full riot gear draw the blue line at Huntington Bank last Saturday.CHART: Where The Top Cops Live NAME CITY ZIP RANK RACESEX *Dewey Dean Granville 43023 Commander W M *Herman Pennington Granville 43023 Commander W M Gary Thatcher Hilliard 43026 Deputy Chief W M *Kent Shafer Ostrander 43061 Commander W M *Stephen Gammill Pataskala 43062 Commander W M *Thomas Robinson Pataskala 43062 Commander B M Walter Burns Westerville 43081 Commander W M John Rockwell Westerville 43082 Deputy Chief W M Raymond Eckles Canal Winchester 43110 Commander W M Robert Kern Prairie 43119 Deputy Chief W M Curtis Marcum Grove City 43123 Commander W M *John Carruthers Lancaster 43130 Commander W M *Terry Tilton Lancaster 43130 Commander W M *William Mattei Pickerington 43147 Commander W M James Jackson Columbus 43205 Chief B M Nick Panzera Granville Hgts 43212 Commander W M Walter Distelzweig Columbus 43213 Commander W M Melvin Frizzell Columbus 43214 Commander W M Antone Lanata Columbus 43214 Deputy Chief W M Gerald Perrigo Madison 43227 Commander W M Carman Spiert Columbus 43227 Deputy Chief W M Vernon Chenevey Columbus 43229 Commander W M Larry Rod Columbus 43229 Commander W M * Lives out of countyEDITORIAL: Protection at what price?Our story this week about residency requirements for police officers ("An Army of Occupation", page 10) could be unreportable in the future The Ohio House of Representatives is seriously considering HB 406, which would shield police officers' home addresses and other information from disclosure.The bill is an attempt to protect law enforcement officers and their families from potential harm if personal information is divulged to the public. Isolated incidents of harassment have been used to whip up a hysteria that the safety and protection of every officer is at stake. Lost in this drama of manufactured fear is any acknowledgment that there could be real social benefits from open records that outweigh the dangers.While there may be an argument to protect certain personal information from disclosure, this new law would allow individual police officers to avoid scrutiny about where they live, and let city governments off the hook of accountability for the results of de facto residential segregation. Reporters and other police monitors would be forced to rely on government agencies to police themselves to see if they comply with existing residency requirements, and it would be much more difficult to show why more stringent regulations are needed.Following the December collapse of the Governor's push for a new, more restrictive open records law, HB 406 is the first shot in what journalists and reformers anticipate will be a renewed assault on public access to government records. Proponents of HB 406 are cynically using real concern for the safety of public servants to take potshots at a system that has functioned at least adequately. Legislators are now trying to disable the open records law one action at a time because they failed in their efforts to gut the law as a whole.The attempt to hide the workings of government from the people who pay for it was unacceptable when it was being done as part of a larger bill, and it cannot be tolerated when it is done a little bit at a time. The existing law isn't perfect, but tinkering may do more to break it than to fix it.


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