Columbus Police Department looking to hire 54 more officers. What this means for Columbus

Columbus Police Department looking to hire 54 more officers. What this means for Columbus

By J.B. Sims

During a recent Columbus City Council meeting, members discussed the need for more police officers, moving to hire 32 officers and setting a goal to employ 54 more. The move comes amid a steady nationwide decline in police force numbers. 

Back in October 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released findings from an April 2023 meeting of law enforcement leaders from across the country. In reference to the nationwide shortage of police officers, the report concluded that negative public perceptions of policing have affected morale among officers and led to higher burnout rates over the years.

A 2022 Jensen Hughes study of the Columbus Police Department (CPD) estimated that Columbus needed 157-196 more officers. At the time, there were around 92 officers on the roster, not including those from other departments nor trainees.

Local feelings on the impact of the police within the community vary. “Our relationship with the police has always been really good,” said Alejandro Hernandez, co-owner of Sapo’s Mexican Cocina and Bar, adjacent to Peachtree Mall. “Response time is immediate. We have cops on the premises Wednesday and Saturday.” He also said, “The new chief came to eat, and he seems like a good person!” Hernandez came to Columbus as a youth in 1996. He said he has seen crime go up and down but maintains, “No matter what, I still love ‘my’ Columbus.” 

Some Columbus residents have questions. “If they do get more [police officers], what will change? There’s a clear difference in the way they patrol different parts of the city,” said Lisa White, a nurse and native of Columbus. “It’s like they have three cops on the scene almost automatically for minor offenses on one side of town, but it takes 45 minutes to respond to a man in Benning Hills beating his wife in the front yard. Is that due to a lack of officers? Multiple instances like this over time don’t give you a good perception.”

“There seems to be a divide between city officials and the common people. It’s very hard to be attracted to making a living doing a job that has such a bad reputation,” said Columbus native Shawn Raleigh, who’s a member of the community action group One More Needed Inside (OMNI).

Raleigh went on to say, “There is a clear lack of training and proper vetting of officers. All this aggression, stalking, and petty arrests are mostly reactive measures. People feel that. It won’t change the social, economic and educational problems — just more manpower,” he said. “It’s like they are a gang. It’s a mirror. How can we make it to where the city can attract good, well vetted, well paid, well trained and certified officers through fair and more socially effective policies and actions?” Other community members share Raleigh’s skepticism. 

A long-time resident and former Columbus policeman who did not want to be identified, said, “[Lows in police staffing are] the elephant in the room that everyone refuses to bring up out of fear. Nobody wants to speak up. It’s to protect themselves, family and associates from personal, political and professional harm,” he said. “It’s definitely like most other problems, big or small. It’s a top-down issue. In this case, it starts with the mayor on down to the police chief, and so on…” The former officer said, “To be blunt, all officers aren’t there with good intentions. It’s true. When the cameras came along — on the dashboards, body cams, street surveillance cameras and the like — those kinds of officers either retired or quit,” he explained.

The Courier Eco Latino News was able to speak with Sargeant Stefan Shelling of the CPD Recruiting Unit. Shelling explained, “To combat some of the general public’s negative perceptions of law enforcement, our department has invested heavily in community building by establishing meaningful, long-lasting relationships with the community we serve.” Shelling also mentioned that the CPD complies with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) standards by emphasizing diversity and inclusion during hiring. He said that the CPD makes an effort to recruit from underrepresented Columbus communities to promote and increase their inclusion efforts. “In order to ensure we attract candidates from underrepresented communities, our recruiters attend several HBCUs such as Albany State University, Alabama State University, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University. We also partner with Goodwill to attend various job fairs,” Shelling said. 

The CPD continues to work toward bridging the community gap and better recruitment and retention methods to aid in keeping the city safe. 

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