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Public hearing examines demilitarizing police in Columbus

On Tuesday, the Columbus City Council Finance Committee held a virtual public hearing to discuss demilitarizing police.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Civil unrest has led to conversations in the community about what kind of gear police use and the message it sends. 

On Tuesday, the Columbus City Council Finance Committee held a virtual public hearing to discuss demilitarizing police.

The meeting can be watched in the player below.

LIVE: Columbus City Council committee holds a public hearing on police access to military-style gear // https://bit.ly/3ik5anK

Posted by 10TV - WBNS on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

President Pro Tempore and Finance Committee Chair Elizabeth Brown said the purpose of the hearing was to examine the city's purchasing code and create parameters around what military-style equipment, gear, and uniforms police can or cannot buy or use.

Brown said there should be a covenant between police and people showing we're on the same side. 

"To uphold that covenant, we must scrutinize what strains it. Every grenade launcher, or riot baton, or [sound] of a helicopter above a child's home strains that covenant."

The hearing lasted nearly six hours with dozens of community members calling in to have their voices heard. You can watch the full hearing here.

Columbus Police Deputy Chief Michael Woods went through a list of military-style items the police department has and what they are used for. Some examples of items police have, but may not use all the time, are as follows: Camouflage uniforms, gas guns, helicopters, armored vehicles, patrol rifles, riot batons, riot helmets, and riot shields.  

10TV talked with James Scanlon, who is a retired Columbus police officer. He was on the SWAT team and believes this gear saves lives. 

"The armored vehicles and the other equipment we have has not just saved police officers, it has saved citizens as well," Scanlon said. "[When] we evacuate places during a barricade or hostage situation, we put those individuals we are evacuating in the back of the armored vehicle so they are not in harm's way."

During the hearing, some council members questioned if the use of some of these items is doing more harm than good.

"It should never feel to residents as if we are at war when police are in their neighborhood," Brown said. 

Council leadership did not announce the next steps. However, Brown told 10TV on Monday, she would like legislation brought forward as soon as possible. 

A 10 Investigates analysis found Ohio law enforcement agencies have used a military surplus program to acquire millions of dollars worth of equipment. Since 1994, police agencies in Ohio have accumulated more than $55 million worth of equipment that used to belong to the U.S. military. Several agencies have used the military surplus program set up through the Pentagon, including the Columbus Division of Police, Franklin County Sheriff's Office, and State Highway Patrol. These agencies and others have used the program to get things like rifles, tents, and even vehicles.