The Crime Prevention Office is easily the most broadside-of-a-barn political target of any entity affiliated with the Columbus Consolidated Government. Every time another high-profile crime occurs, or another set of grim crime statistics is released, you can set your watch by the flurry of “Where was our Crime Prevention director?” hecklers burning up the message boards. (As if that were an original, insightful, clever or even remotely useful observation; or as if a caped superhero from the Crime Prevention Office should have shown up in time to Prevent the Crime.)
In terms of quantifying its value, this office has an impossible task. You can’t prove a negative. You can’t provide statistics on which crimes, or how many, weren’t committed. No kid or young adult is going to come before council, or record a video for the city website, and say, “If I hadn’t been at such-and-such a crime prevention program on such-and-such a date, I’d have been robbing a liquor store.”
Theresa Al-Amin, regional director of the Southern Anti-Racism Network, certainly can’t be dismissed as a heckler, though her description of the Crime Prevention program as “the most unethical, incestuous, patronage scheme I’ve ever seen in giving away public dollars” would be a formidable contender for a hyperbole award.
El-Amin has been a supporter of, and participant in, Crime Prevention Office programs in the past: Her organization was awarded $13,000 in June for the Strong Parental Involvement in Community Education (SPICE) project, surely an effort even the most cynical observer would acknowledge is essential to crime prevention. But SARN rejected the money because its request for an additional $8,400 was denied.
Under the circumstances, it’s impossible to dismiss sour grapes as one of the reason for El-Amin’s strenuous objection to the grant process. But her call for an assessment of that process is not necessarily out of left field, even if the ethics of those involved are beyond reproach.
This isn’t the first time funding choices of the Crime Prevention Office have been challenged as overly political, and it won’t be the last. When there’s a limited pot of money, that’s inevitable. A year ago, the director of NewLife Second Chance, a transition organization for former prisoners, said after being denied a grant that “they’re in cliques, and if you’re not in their cliques, you don’t get anything.” Perpetually embattled Crime Prevention Director Seth Brown pointed out, at the same 2016 meeting, that jail education, job placement and juvenile drug court programs had demonstrably reduced recidivism.
When then-Mayor (and former Columbus police chief) Jim Wetherington created this agency, he made it clear that it was not intended as another arm of law enforcement. El-Amin pointed out — quite rightly, and relevantly — that the city is short of police officers (Sheriff Donna Tompkins reportedly is also short about 30 deputies). But that’s a different argument.
This one is about money. And it’s an argument the Crime Prevention Board knows it can’t win.