COLUMBUS, Ohio — Specialized police units have been under scrutiny across the country after the death of Tyre Nichols. The officers charged were part of the now-disbanded SCORPION unit, which faced criticism about officer training and experience.
Columbus Division of Police First Assistant Chief LaShanna Potts said she was upset after seeing the Tyre Nichols video but feels confident the specialized gang unit now operating at the Columbus Division of Police is critical.
“They’ve been doing phenomenal work,” she said. “It hasn’t been a problem because they’ve been in existence since October, and you haven’t heard anything about them, which says that they’re doing exactly what we want them to do.”
The unit is a pilot program, simply named the gang enforcement unit, operating under the umbrella of organized crime. Many of the officers now with that unit were asked to join because of their successful efforts as part of a summer safety initiative.
Assistant Chief Potts provided 10TV with some information about their efforts during that roughly 8-month period, from the beginning of the summer safety initiative through Feb. 3.
- 131 felony arrests
- 74 documented gang members arrested
- 82 weapons recovered
- 16 homicide suspects taken into custody
- More than $8,600 in cash seized
- 92 warrants served
“We put parameters in place,” Potts said of the unit “You have an assistant chief who’s monitoring, you have a deputy chief who’s monitoring, you have a commander, very competent commander who’s very hands-on, you have a very active lieutenant and a very great sergeant that are running this unit. And so, I’m confident in the team that we’ve put in place.”
Potts said there was a need to address group and gang violence in the community and that this unit is a way to do that. Department leaders have consulted with people in the community, including Columbus Urban League President Stephanie Hightower.
Hightower says the CUL’s Neighborhood Violence Prevention Group is part of this effort, and she supports the unit.
“What we don’t want is any more mothers or families out here talking about their loved one being killed because we’re not paying attention to these violent gang members,” she said.
Assistant Chief Potts also addressed some concerns about how the unit will appear. She made clear that the officers will wear uniforms, although they will be different colors, and will wear body-worn cameras. The cruisers are still in the works, but they will be fully marked and have overhead lights. There is a chance they could be black instead of white, but she dismissed the term “blackout” cruiser.
“I want to clear that up,” she said of the term. “It was offensive. My officers called me. They were offended. And so, for that to be the message is disheartening because they’re doing the job we’ve asked them to do. They’ve done it with minimal uses of force.”
First Assistant Chief Potts is keenly aware that some may view the new unit as a rogue unit of some sort. And she knows CPD has faced challenges with specialized units in the past. The vice unit was disbanded after the death of Donna Castleberry, which led to charges for former officer Andrew Mitchell, whose trial ended in a mistrial, and after the Stormy Daniels scandal.
Potts says the division has learned from past mistakes.
“I believe that these officers have integrity,” she said. “I believe that they’re dedicated to the mission, but I also believe they’re community-oriented. They want the group and gang violence in Columbus to stop. And so, I’m going to support them on that.”