Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde opened his talk at the State of the City address highlighting improvements the department and city have made in two areas — law enforcement professionalism and crime reduction efforts.
Mayor Jim Lienhoop chose Rohde as a guest speaker at the annual address to show law enforcement’s commitment to making Columbus a safe place to work, play and live.
“Demonstrating professionalism in law enforcement is critical in this day and age, and it’s necessary to build relationships between police and the citizens we serve,” Rohde said.
He said professionalism is demonstrated in a variety of ways — from achieving and maintaining state and national accreditation to recruiting and retaining officers.
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In a portion of his speech, Rohde honored police officers who had assisted community members in various ways, including saving lives, helping the elderly and assisting residents with keeping their kids safe.
In 2017, Columbus Police Department averaged losing six officers a year, and applications received decreased by more than 75 percent, Rohde said. Successful police hires also decreased by 88 percent.
“This problem required action, and in 2018 the mayor, city council and board of public works and safety made it a priority to reverse this,” Rohde said.
The city conducted a salary compensation study and initiated a two-year implementation plan to offer more competitive salaries. The take-home car program was also expanded to match the state’s residency requirements.
Also, the grooming policy was modified to be more progressive with current times, allowing beards and tattoos.
The department hosted a hiring process Saturday, and Rohde said these actions resulted in a 187 percent increase in the number of applicants who showed up, and a 400 percent increase in applications received.
Rohde also used the opportunity to highlight law enforcement’s efforts to reduce violent crime and property crime numbers. He said violent crimes, when one person harms another person, are 79 percent below the national average.
The city was recently ranked No. 8 on Safewise’s list of safest Indiana cities. SecurityChoice highlighted safe cities across the nation, and ranked Columbus No. 5 in the nation.
The department has also partnered with Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. to increase the number of full-time school resource officers to five in local schools.
Rohde said the department introduced a new method of policing, intelligence-led policing, to reduce the number of reports of stolen or damaged property. This new method has resulted in property crime reductions over the last three years, an overall 19 percent decrease.
“I get really excited about this because you see your vision coming to fruition,” Rohde said. “I’m really excited to announce we are on pace this year for an additional 20 percent decrease in property crime. The actions taken are producing the desired results.”
Rohde said the higher-than-average property crime has direct correlation with the city’s drug addiction problem.
“While law enforcement constantly works to arrest the drug dealers and locate the supply of drugs, the community as a whole needs to address the demand,” Rohde said. “The theory is if we can reduce or eliminate the demand, we will collaterally reduce the drug supply.”