February 2, 2018 10:41:12 AM
Zack Plair - [email protected]
A conversation Thursday about witnesses and victims cooperating with police segued into a public update on last month's shooting outside Leigh Mall.
Police have not reported an arrest in the Jan. 4 incident outside the rear entrance to the mall, where a 28-year-old male victim received non life-threatening injuries just before 4 p.m. and drove himself to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle.
Capt. Brent Swan told Columbus Police Department Citizen Overview Committee members during their quarterly meeting one of the parties involved was dropping off someone who works at the mall, and the other party met him there specifically for a "retaliatory shooting."
The victim, who police have not identified, has so far not cooperated with the investigation. Swan believes the victim contributed in some way to the incident and "he doesn't want us to know the whole story."
That issue sparked Overview Committee member Lee Roy Lollar to ask why the man hasn't been charged for obstruction of justice.
In reply, Swan noted that type of law enforcement created a slippery slope with possible unintended consequences.
"We can't really make victims cooperate," Swan said. "... We don't really want to get in the habit of charging victims with not cooperating. Then nobody would want to come forward.
"With a lot of these investigations, we know what happened," Swan later added. "We just can't (always) prove it."
In Thursday's meeting, which was Fred Shelton's first before the committee since becoming chief in January, Shelton expounded on reasons why victims -- or witnesses -- would generally be hesitant to give details to police.
He said he's working with District Attorney Scott Colom to "break the culture" of stigma around "snitches," while cracking down on witness intimidation.
Often, though, victims don't want to incriminate themselves.
For example, Shelton said, if a shooting victim is a convicted felon and admits to also shooting or even having a firearm, that person can be charged with felon in possession of a weapon. He did not confirm if that was the case in the Leigh Mall shooting.
Former jail administrator hired
Shelton announced former Lowndes County Adult Detention Center Administrator Rick Jones began Thursday as a lieutenant who will spearhead two of the departments planned volunteer initiatives.
Jones, who retired from his county job Oct. 31, will coordinate citizen volunteers who are training to take crime or incident reports from the public -- thus keeping patrol officers on their beats during their shifts, Shelton said.
He also will organize the restart of the Police Explorers, an initiative sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America to expose youth, ages 14 to 21, to police work and training so they might become interested in law enforcement. When CPD offered the program in the past, Shelton said, some of its members ultimately became police officers.
Shelton said Jones will help with applicant officer background checks, as well.
Jones has 35 years of law enforcement experience, administrating the jail for about two years. He's also previously worked for CPD.
Community policing, CPD fundraising efforts
In response to another Lollar inquiry, Shelton said he would consider partnering with a civilian volunteer or local nonprofit organization to be the face of the department's philanthropic initiatives.
Shelton in January relegated former community relations officer Rhonda Sanders -- who had for years organized fundraisers and events for CPD such as the annual Christmas toy drive and Halloween haunted house -- to patrol duty.
Lollar said he supports that move but asked Shelton what the plan is moving forward.
To Lollar, and in an interview with The Dispatch after the meeting, Shelton said the plan is still developing. In the meantime, he has tasked all of his officers to take a more "community policing" approach to become more recognizable to citizens.
"We're continuing all of those things but in a different form," Shelton told The Dispatch in reference to Sanders' former duties. "We would like to get a private citizen to handle that through a 501&169;3."
As part of Shelton's department wide community policing effort, he's deployed foot patrols that will visit schools, parks, businesses and higher-crime areas. While these patrols may make arrests, that won't be their only function, he said.
If they walk by a park and see some kids playing basketball, for instance, they may pull those kids off the court for 10 minutes and "talk to them about peer pressure or something like that."
Officer numbers, Career Day
Shelton reported Thursday his department boasted 65 officers, two short of the minimum he needs and five short of his target of 70.
To fill that remaining gap, CPD is hosting a career day event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 10 at the municipal complex to recruit applicants. The event will involve touring the facilities, including a shuttle trip to see the firing range on Yorkville Road, as well as equipment presentations. Those interested can submit applications at the event.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.