Ohio State activists express support for increased alternative safety measures, not police presence

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Students, activists and faculty have recognized the benefit of new safety measures but many said increased policing ignores calls to cut ties with the Columbus Police Department. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Ohio State activists who previously called for the university to cut ties with the Columbus Division of Police said they are unhappy with the university’s decision to increase police presence in response to safety concerns in the off-campus area.

Students and faculty said they have recognized the benefits of new safety measures such as increased lighting and cameras in the off-campus area. But some, such as Margaret Newell, a professor in history, said the new safety policies could have included more community-based alternatives to policing.

“We wished the president would have incorporated some of the concerns that the community expressed over the spring and summer about policing, about race, in the new safety policy,”  Newell, a member of the Department of History’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, said. “The Black Lives Matter protests happened, and we don’t want to forget that even as we see we’re in a moment of increased crime and concerns about student safety.”

Newell said her response does not reflect the committee’s official stance.

In May, the Department of History’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee issued a statement to University President Kristina M. Johnson and other members of the administration voicing their support for student activists aiming to reform Ohio State’s policing practices.

However, following increased crime in off-campus neighborhoods, Johnson announced Aug. 27 that Ohio State would invest in additional safety measures by increasing lighting, cameras and university and Columbus Police presence. On Sept. 14, she said in a universitywide email serious crime decreased by 39 percent since the Aug. 27 safety measures were implemented.

On Sept. 28, Johnson announced a $20 million investment in safety and security over the next decade , adding permanent mobile lighting and cameras, expanding the discounted Lyft Ride Service program and employing more security personnel.

Anagha Velamakanni, co-chair of the Ohio State chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, said she welcomes safety measures such as new lighting fixtures and cameras rather than increased police presence.

“There should be more focus on those alternative forms of safety rather than increasing police presence on campus and around campus,” Velamakanni, a fourth-year in economics, said.

Velamakanni said increased policing in the University District goes against what students and staff are asking for — particularly Black students who have been protesting the issue of policing and the university’s ties to the Columbus Police for years.

YDSA announced in a Sept. 1 Instagram post it had signed a petition along with other Ohio State and Columbus social justice groups urging the university to cut ties with the Columbus Police.

“Talk to the students and talk to the community members and see what they actually want, rather than ignoring the fact that students have said we don’t want police on campus,” Velamakanni said. “Thousands of students have signed a petition that says ‘We don’t want police on campus, cut ties with CPD,’ and they ignore that and put out a frilly letter.”

University spokesperson Chris Booker said in an email the university engages with Buckeyes regularly through its task force on community safety and wellbeing , which is made up of students, faculty and staff.

Booker said Johnson met with Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant in August to discuss “mitigation strategies for off-campus crime.” He said Bryant and the university are aware increased police presence is only one factor in keeping the community safe.

Booker said other factors include the implementation of new safety initiatives such as Community Crime Patrols, increased lighting and cameras, expanded discounted ridesharing hours, offering of free safety devices and the recent launch of a new safety class.

“The task force also continues to advance longer-term recommendations designed to influence the overall safety culture both on and off campus such as expanding community policing programs and initiatives, with a special focus on outreach and interactions with marginalized groups,” Booker said.

Shelby Staats, a fifth-year in public health, said she has her own history of trauma with the police after a mental health crisis, and recognizes that other non-white students may feel the same.

“When I see twelve bike cops, I have to relive that trauma, and I know I’m not the only one who faces this alone,” Staats, who lives in the off-campus neighborhood, said. “Whether it’s looking at race or ability, I’m scared everyday. Not because of crime, but because of the police.”

Newell said she believes transparency about police guidelines on training and excessive use of force would make students and the surrounding community feel safer.

With regard to teen and young adult perpetrators, Newell said she would like to see the university address Columbus’s rise in crime and its causes. She said the city needs mediators, mentors, conflict resolution experts and financial aid for higher education.

“OSU would be a great partner to the city, and it should try to come up with solutions and harness the research and resources at OSU to address the crises of housing, loss of school and recreational facilities, poverty, violence and mental health that are clearly part of this rise in violent crime,” Newell said.

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