The U.S. Department of Justice has chosen the Columbus Police Department for a program that assesses "community policing" policies and suggests ways to improve, city officials announced Wednesday.
The Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Service will begin sending representatives to Columbus in January to look over three aspects of how the department operates: community partnerships, organizational change and problem solving.
Police Chief Ricky Boren said he looks forward to working with the program, showing the visitors what his department does and learning what others do.
"We have always enjoyed a good relationship with the community here in Columbus, and our community policing takes top priority with that relationship," Boren said. "When this department comes in, we'll talk to them about best practices, not only in Columbus, but things that they know that work in other cities."
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who sought the assessment, said it will help fulfill a commitment made to the citizens when the 2008 Other Local Option Sales Tax was promoted.
Former Mayor Jim Wetherington was the catalyst behind the LOST tax. Three things he vowed to make priorities if the tax were passed were adding 100 new officers to the force, creating a crime prevention department and improving community policing practices, Tomlinson said.
"I want to be faithful to what he represented," she said. "I think we have done that with the 100 officers, and I think we've made great improvement in our crime prevention office. But I think where we can continue to improve is on the community policing aspect."
Tomlinson said the department already does a good job of working with the community through programs like D.A.R.E., Columbus Against Drugs and neighborhood watch groups. But the Justice Department's COPS program goes beyond that level and addresses things like patrol structure.
"While our police department does a great job with community outreach through neighborhood watch programs and the like, we have not yet effectively adopted community policing strategies into our patrol systems," Tomlinson said.
Corey Ray, who works for the COPS program, said representatives will come to Columbus in January to conduct a survey and assess department structure and policies.
"We will be looking at the police department's operations and its community policing history and programs," Ray said. The information gathered will be turned over to Tomlinson and Boren "for their use in updating or improving their community policing strategies."
Tomlinson said while there are no guarantees, once the assessment has been done on the department, it will become eligible to apply for Justice Department grants for community policing programs and technology.