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New oversight planned for animal services

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Columbus Animal Care Services could be supervised by the city’s Board of Works rather than the Columbus Police Department to help police achieve a national accreditation.

City council members gave unanimous approval for three ordinance changes Tuesday allowing the transfer. The council will consider the changes on a final vote at its next meeting at 6 p.m. March 4 at City Hall.

Changes include moving administrative authority for animal control to the city’s Board of Works, changing the title of current animal care services manager Nicole Birdwell Goodin to general manager, and adding a member to the Animal Care Services Commission while changing the makeup of that commission slightly.

All the changes stem from the police department’s efforts to receive accreditation from the national Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, a three-year process that began in 2012.

That commission sets about 184 standards that police departments must meet to achieve accreditation. It’s a voluntary process, and this is the first time the department has attempted to achieve it, Police Chief Jason Maddix said. The standards will help the department “be better than we are now” and find more ways to improve community safety, he said.

The standards include a requirement for police departments to have a procedure for approving volunteers. Maddix said Columbus has about 15 people who volunteer at the police department. Its volunteers must complete the department’s public safety academy, offered once a year, and pass a background check, all required within the accreditation guidelines.

Since animal control has been under the police department’s administration, the accreditation standards would require animal care volunteers follow the same process. That’s something Maddix and Deputy Chief Todd Harry said would be impractical because of the large number and turnover of helpers at the animal shelter.

Animal care has more than 100 volunteers, some of which change weekly to monthly, and it would be difficult to maintain that level of assistance if every one of them had to complete the academy and go through a background check, Maddix said. The accreditation also would require that animal care employees go through the same screening as police civilian employees, which requires a polygraph screening.

Animal Care Services volunteers worked more than 1,775 hours in 2013, said Chris Schilling, the city’s communications and program coordinator. The shelter does not keep statistics on turnover, or how often new volunteers begin serving, but Schilling said there is a wide range of ages and hours of service among the volunteers.

The change in the animal care services commission would reflect the change in administration. The commission would go from six to seven members, made up of a licensed veterinarian, an appointee from the city council, an appointee from a chartered animal care or control organization, three Columbus residents and a representative from the Columbus Police Department. Mayor Kristen Brown would appoint the majority of the commission, with the exception of the representatives appointed by the council and police department.

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