Local interest group challenges policing practices through proposed guidelines

A group of Bexley residents has compiled proposed guidelines they would like to see implemented by the City of Bexley that would strive to promote fair practices by the Bexley Police.

Bexley Residents Against Institutional Racism is referring to the measures as the “Good Neighbor Ordinances.” The guidelines would affect how and when Bexley Police conduct traffic stops, with the aim of ending racial profiling.

Recommendations include eliminating investigatory “suspicious activity” stops, requiring officer training in proper traffic stop practices and enacting a “good neighbor” policy. This would require all stops for equipment violations, like a broken tail light, to be labeled “courtesy stops,” according to informational material from BRAIR.

BRAIR’s founder and Bexley resident KorKeya Toney said the guidelines began as a set of demands to the police created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in the summer of 2020.

That summer, Toney convened a group of Bexley residents to process the traumatic event and hear Black community members discuss their experiences with racial profiling in Bexley.

Those conversations led to BRAIR’s formation and a decision among its members to look into the issue further.

“We thought about the adversarial relationship that has been created by our police department and other [departments] across the country,” Toney said. “[The ordinances] could be something that could repair that relationship.”

This led to members coordinating a study to determine whether Bexley Police have racially-biased tendencies when conducting traffic stops, Toney said.

BRAIR formed the police accountability subgroup that began obtaining publicly available Bexley Police traffic citations during a six-month period from Nov. 1, 2020 through April 30, 2021. They looked at the driver’s race and home address, location of the traffic stop and age of car when analyzing each citation, according to the study.

The findings of the study revealed inequities in how the police treat white and Black drivers.

The study showed, for example, that the Bexley Police issued 60% of their citations to non-residents, 69% of whom were Black. In addition, according to the study, Bexley’s demographic data indicated that 87% of its residents are white, while just 13% are people of color, yet 60% of all drivers stopped were Black.

Members of the police accountability group said the results of the study were further indication of a larger racial profiling issue within the community.

The Bexley Police Department did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

The guidelines are under review by Bexley City Council, and the Council is working to make sure the ideas presented by BRAIR will achieve effective change, Bexley City Council member Sam Marcellino said.

“I have no problems saying that I believe Bexley has a troubled past of racial profiling in its policing,” Marcellino said. “Some may disagree, but it’s my perception as a Black man living here.”

Marcellino added that he feels hopeful for the future of Bexley policing.

“My goal is to continue to work with the police to make sure they have all the tools and support necessary to keep Bexley safe while making positive changes to alter the narrative of the past,” Marcellino said.

Mayor Ben Kessler explained that many of the guidelines BRAIR outlined in their demands are already common practices used by the Bexley Police. He added that some of the other guidelines would not be legally possible for the Bexley Police to adopt.

“Examples of this would be asking officers not to enforce court-ordered warrants, or prohibiting police officers from issuing citations for minor misdemeanors, which include violations like speeding, running stop signs or red lights and disorderly conduct,” Kessler said.

Kessler explained that making sure the current practices in place are equitable is important, but additional conversation would be beneficial before turning the guidelines into official ordinances.

“I believe that if we all took time to gain 360 degree understanding of the practice and perspectives of the officers who work in our city day in and day out, as well as the experiences and perspectives of those asking for these changes, the information gleaned would be invaluable,” Kessler said.

Marcellino said he believes these guidelines will positively impact not only Bexley residents but non-residents as well.

“When all citizens feel comfortable traveling through our town, visiting our restaurants and attending community events, it will make Bexley a better place,” Marcellino said.