Bob Bytes Back Archive: 6/19/2002 Jackson Must Go!

by Bob Fitrakis

Columbus Police Chief James G. Jackson should do us all a favor and resign. No, not because of the obviously botched handling of the Columbus Police Commander Walter J. Burns case. We can rest assured that Assistant Safety Director David Sturtz will conduct a fair and thorough investigation. When Sturtz was Ohio’s Inspector General, his investigations were beyond reproach and models to be emulated by other public officials.

Jackson should resign because he’s failed the citizens of Columbus by creating a police department that charitably could be called the minor league, AAA squad to the L.A. Police Department. Sure, there are minor differences. The LAPD has a reputation for beating and harassing primarily minorities. The more enlightened Columbus police are equal opportunity Macers and muggers.

Columbus Safety Director Thomas W. Rice is admirably trying to prod Jackson into current professional practices such as community policing. But Jackson resists and seems to wax nostalgic for the good old days of the rubber hose and policemen as unaccountable thugs. Let’s briefly recall some of Chief Jackson’s most notable recent accomplishments: indiscriminate Macing of OSU football fans following the last win against Michigan at home; the beating and Macing of lawfully demonstrating Antioch students; at least three major street clashes since October between Jackson’s police and south campus area residents; and continued charges of discrimination from the African-American organization Police Officers for Equal Rights (POER). His inability to control his police force is an embarrassment. Inaction Jackson’s tenure has truly been a disaster.

Jackson is partly the product of a flawed system. Columbus, unlike other major cities, lacks any form of civilian review of police. Plus, Jackson does not serve at the pleasure of the safety director or mayor, rather he has civil service protection. This is the worst possible combination of policies. And Jackson has taken advantage of it, and sent a message that the small percentage of rogue and unprofessional cops will be pampered and protected.

At the June 12 University Area Commission (UAC) meeting, the commissioners unanimously endorsed “the community review of police” as part of Campus Partners “Final Final Draft” plan for campus revitalization. One commissioner joked, “If we call for this, should we also ask for witness protection programs to hide us from the police?”

Richard Talbott, a university area developer and commissioner, is a strong proponent of “real community policing like they have in New York.

“What we have in the campus area is the ‘Barney wave’… cops still in cruisers roll by at 20 mph and give you the fake smile and the silly purple dinosaur salute,” he said.

Talbott describes himself as a “dyed-in-the-wool Republican,” but agrees with the other commissioners that the cops are out of control in the south campus area. As another commissioner put it, “They’re arrogant. You see them prancing through the bars, chit-chatting with the girls while someone’s being mugged around the corner.”

Talbott keeps a tear gas canister and a handful of “knee-knockers”-rubber riot bullets-from the most recent police/student clash as a reminder of the problem.

Commissioner Steve Nicol, who manages apartments and lives on 12th Avenue-ground zero of the student ghetto war zone-points out that “the tear gas goes through the walls.” Thus, those not battling the police are forced out of their apartments and subjected to the indiscriminate Macing and beating. Both Nicol and Talbott report that they own some 700 feet of orange plastic fencing that they’ll deliver to any tenants having a party. Both insist that students have made a sincere effort to check I.D. and keep uninvited guests off private premises. Police demanded this “appearance of order” but still they attack in their riot gear.

Another commissioner, Joe Jackson, a real estate agent, believes that the police are out of line and that the students have become “an easy target.” Brad Miller, owner of Maxwell’s, echoes this view. The south campus students have been “targeted.”

If you talk to the students who live and drink in the area, the first thing that strikes you is how un-radical and un-militant they are. For the most part, they’re business majors and accountant wanna-bes who find themselves reluctantly drawn into the fray by circumstances beyond their control.

These students are not the self-proclaimed “vanguard of the revolution.” I know, because I was one. Yet, just as in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the present repressive tactics of Chief Jackson will inevitably lead to rebellion. President Gee and Campus Partners’ recent “temperance crusade” has fanned the flames and inadvertently promoted this outdated and unacceptable police conduct. Still, it is the police chief who is ultimately responsible.

That’s why Jackson must resign. He has made every cop a criminal and suspect in the eyes of a marginalized community that will only be able to reduce its crime rate if trust and true community policing exist-concepts alien to Jackson.