New CPD policy will limit theft offense arrests, even porch pirates

Bethany Bruner

| The Columbus dispatch

The next time a "veranda pirate" comes to your door to steal a package and you call the Columbus police, you may be surprised by their reaction.

In most cases, the officer cannot arrest the person responsible – even if they watch them steal a package. You also cannot summon them to appear in court at a later date.

The Columbus Division of Police's policy change, which went into effect on Friday, states that officers cannot arrest or summons most non-violent crimes, including theft.

The department's directives had previously said that officers should not do this, but allowed the officers to exercise their discretion. The language of the directive has now been changed so that officials are not allowed to do this as in most cases they are not allowed to take action.

The officers are now required to file a report with the prosecutor determining whether the charges are warranted.

The policy continues to allow officers to arrest a suspect of a crime in search of pending warrants.

Attorney Zach Klein's office issued a statement after the fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9 raised concerns about the official's waiver policy amendment, highlighting the lack of resolve among victims of theft.

"We recognize and support that officials still have to make arrests in certain situations," Klein said in the statement. "This could include, but is not limited to, a suspect who is violent, opposes arrest, has pending arrest warrants, or is a chronic and repeated offender."

For example, the policy would likely have no impact on the arrests of suspects who Columbus police reported in a tweet Monday that they recently had a number of shoplifting incidents or attempts at Costco stores in Easton Town Center and Polaris for repeated violations and increasingly physical responses to shop safety.

FOP President Keith Ferrell said there were other exemptions, including prostitution-related crimes so that trafficked persons can be separated from their traffickers, OVI cases and extenuating circumstances.

"A manager can say someone has to go to jail," Ferrell said. "But theoretically there are crimes that we could have arrested because we cannot arrest them for the time being."

Ferrell said he would see a person caught stealing packages from porches on multiple occasions, or someone caught stealing packages or breaking into cars in an area where a rash of this type of crime has occurred is to be regarded as extenuating circumstances. However, the decision whether to arrest suspects in such situations is made by the line manager or the public prosecutor.

Columbus police officers are concerned about the public's response to the change, he said, especially from business owners who may not be able to see shoplifting suspects arrested or prosecuted.

"Now we'll take a report, send it to the prosecutor, and they'll make a decision about what to do with it," Ferrell said. "In the past, we could arrest them or give them a trial."

The exemptions from the new directive will also require some consideration, as what a manager might subjectively consider extenuating may not be what the prosecution or other police officers would consider extenuating circumstances.

"I think there is a lot of emotion associated with everything that is going on in the world and this is another way they see the police in the way of doing their job," Ferrell said. "That is the officers' concern."

Roger Geiger, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 22,000 small businesses in Ohio and about 1,500 in Franklin County, said there were concerns about the message Columbus' new police policy will send to shoplifters.

"Shoplifting and theft are still a crime," Geiger said. "Any retail company would tell you they are dealing with this systemic problem. It doesn't cost the business owner, it costs the consumer."

Geiger said if there were increased incidents of shoplifting or non-punitive situations, business owners could move out of the area or choose not to settle in the area.

"It's really going to hurt areas where they can least afford it," he said. "If we send the signal that there is very little impact (from theft), they won't be opening a store here. It's just not worth it."

Geiger said he doesn't think first-time offenders "should have the book thrown at them," but he said the new policy will ultimately encourage others.

"It's going to increase shoplifting because they think they can get away with it," Geiger said. "Things like that have to be thought through."

Klein's office did not immediately respond to a request from The Dispatch to answer additional questions related to the policy change.

bbruner@dispatch.com

@bethany_bruner

jfutty@dispatch.com

@ Johnfutty

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