Panel takes step forward on police reform

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — Jamie Lewis’ daughter might be on her way to becoming a police officer after Thursday night.

Lewis spent about an hour moderating a digital panel of subject matter, experts and community members when the topic had shifted to the community’s responsibility in improving relations with police officers.

A question had been posed.

“Would you want your child to become a police officer?”

Panelist Jerrick Alston had some concerns. He talked about the stigma from contemporaries that can come with being an officer and Black, and he knew that a son or daughter would face some hard situations. Fresh N Faded Owner Leandre Johnson gave an unequivocal “yes” despite having experience behind bars.

But Lewis said she did have a daughter who wanted to be a police officer, and she had just received an invitation from Lima Police Department Chief Kevin Martin for a personal tour.

“Oh my gosh, thank you so much,” she said. “My daughter will literally lose her mind. She will be very very happy. Thank you. I will do that.”

According to the night’s discussion, it was a step in the right direction.

Organized by the Committee on Racial Justice and Reform, the second town hall discussion on police reform featured about an hour of Martin fielding questions from community members about hiring practices, investigations, the department’s transparency and the mental health of police officers.

Martin had answered a number of similar questions in a past town hall, but when the conversation moved toward community relations, the panel started talking about everyone’s responsibility in being part of the change they wished to see.

“We’re putting a lot of responsibility on police, but what about us in the community and respect. Respect is universal. If a police officer, if he’s talking nicely, why are you being mean to him and let the situation escalate,” Johnson said.

“We’re trying to create opportunities for young people to be a part of these initiatives, but there’s also some individual responsibilities. We often exacerbate the problem,” Heir Force Community School Director Dr. Willie Heggins said. “We need to move past fractions and find more creative ways.”

Panel members, however, didn’t downplay law enforcement’s role either.

Dr. Reggie Wilkinson, former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, brought some solutions to what he called unintentional bias in the justice system.

“I think there’s bias in the justice system. Period. From the point of arrest through incarceration as far as released back to community. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, but implicitly that’s what happens,” Wilkinson said.

He pointed out studies that have shown that Black people are more likely than white people to be pulled over in Columbus, which changes how Black people have interactions with police down line. Over time, the imbalance causes more to fall into the justice system funnel. The end result is half of those serving time in state prisons are Black, despite making up 13% of the state’s population.

The problem deepens after a generation. Children with parents in prison are six times more likely to follow a criminal path, Wilkinson said.

“It’s become systemic. It’s become something that it’s almost too difficult to reverse, but it can be reversed,” Wilkinson said. “If we don’t know these things are out there, we will never attempt to address them.”

To root out the problem locally, he offered a City of Columbus study, the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission Report, as a guidebook.

“This is the beginning of a wonderful movement,” Panelist Maxine Dillard said. “If we continue to do this and we continue to do what we’ve said today, Lima will be a much better place. I would like to see us be like a light in the dark, because we can.”

The full conversation can be found online at

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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