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Columbus city officials request Justice Department investigate police force

Columbus city officials request Justice Department investigate police force
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City leaders in Columbus, Ohio, have requested a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into its police department following a series of police killings of Black people, The Associated Press reported.

This request from Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein comes shortly after the death of 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant, who was fatally shot by Columbus police officer Nicholas Reardon.

“This is not about one particular officer, policy, or incident; rather, this is about reforming the entire institution of policing in Columbus,” Ginther and Klein said in a letter on Wednesday. “Simply put: We need to change the culture of the Columbus Division of Police.”

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The AP noted that Ginther and Klein's request also comes shortly after a report was released this week that criticized both the police department and city leaders. The $250,000 report found that many people felt police officers involved in handling protests overreacted and that city leaders were not in agreement over how to handle protests.

Ginther has made efforts to reform the city's police department, the AP noted, spending millions on police body cameras after assuming office in 2016. However, he and Klein wrote in their letter on Wednesday that "the City has been met with fierce opposition from leadership within the Columbus Division of Police."

Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of the local police union, said officers "are always willing to work with any entity to improve policing in the communities they protect and serve."

"Politicians constantly vilifying officers breeds contempt for authority, emboldens the criminal element and has led to a mass exodus of law enforcement officers from the profession," Simpson added.

Ayesha Hardaway, a criminal law professor at Case Western Reserve University, told the AP that she believed the request would be appealing to the DOJ given the recent police killings and Ginther's push for police reform. Hardaway worked with Cleveland's police department following the officer-involved death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

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"I imagine that Columbus will be considered a good opportunity to make lasting change,” Hardaway said.

On Thursday, Bryant's family called for a federal investigation into her death and another investigation into the foster system that cared for her.

"We’ll be calling for a couple federal investigations. One being from the Health and Human Services asking that we look into Ohio’s foster care system, starting here in Franklin County," Columbus-based attorney Michelle Martin, who represents Bryant's family, said. "We’re also going to be calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the shooting. And we’re still investigating who else could be at fault, because this can’t happen again."