East Liverpool native son rises to top rank in Columbus police department
COLUMBUS — A major part of successful police work centers around communication, and Thomas Quinlan welcomes the chance to share his approach.
He was named police chief by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther in mid-December and is excited about the prospect of bringing positive change to his community.
A 30-year division veteran, he still awaits official swearing-in the post, which is a five-year appointment with the option of renewal.
The job isn’t necessarily a new one for Quinlan, who has been serving as interim chief for the last year, since Kim Jacobs had retired in February.
Nor is the job an easy one if one looks at the tasks that he has encountered.
Columbus police have had its share of controversy, ranging from the whole Stormy Daniels episode and allegations of racism within the community and its interaction with law enforcement.
For example, a porn star who had made assertions regarding a sexual liaison with a presidential candidate, Daniels had been arrested while performing in a Columbus strip club by vice cops who alleged that she illegally touched a client. Those charges were dropped within 12 hours and she sued, settling for $450,000.
As a result of a criminal investigation into the vice cops, who were fans of President Donald Trump, Quinlan disbanned the vice unit and disciplined many of the officers, who allegedly made the arrests in retaliation for embarrassing Trump.
Looking back, Quinlan, who was the interim chief who inherited the whole mess, acknowledged that he had no regrets regarding dispensing the punishment. Not only did he ask the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the incident but he terminated the officers who engaged in corrupt behavior, acknowledging that they had no place here.
He also has visions firmly set on diversifying not only their police force but combating racism within the community. “We have made tremendous efforts over the last three to five years regarding racism,” he explaining that they have a sizable number of minorities on their officer force of 1,916, and he looks forward to building on that.
“We have made changes in regards to our recruiting, working with local schools and are working on removing some disqualifiers. I’m pleased with the progress that we have made, but we have more work to do,” Quinlan added.
Word of mouth from other officers is possibly their biggest asset, he acknowledges. “The best recruitment tool is positive experiences.”
However, he acknowledges much hard work needs to be done.
For example, he has seen the population of Columbus grow from 650,000 to 900,000; however, staffing assignments in the Short North and downtown, which are two of their most active areas, continue to be at the same staffing levels. “We need to re-evaluate those,” Quinlan acknowledged.
He also seeks to revamp the department’s communications system, moving both its records and dispatch operations to a cloud-based system from the current server-based one. A former communications supervisor, he has seen the effect that the glitchy system can have on operations as they have to manually redo work.
Looking back during his decades long career, Quinlan admits that he misses his days as the night shift patrol lieutenant, which put him largely in the downtown area for everything from special events and riots. “Hands on, it was the best job as it gave me the opportunity to interact with people,” Quinlan said. “I miss doing police work.”
The son of the late Bernard and Ann Quinlan, he went to The Ohio State University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminology. Quinlan also followed up by also earning degrees in human resource administration and legal assisting. Quinlan also is the brother of David Quinlan, Jimmy Quinlan and Carol Cowan, who is the East Liverpool health commissioner.
However, it was his East Liverpool upbringing which he credits today for most of his success. “I value the time I spent here in East Liverpool with all its small time charm. Residents care about people, and I brought that compassion with me,” he explained, citing a therapy dog unit of the Columbus division where children and crime victims can interact with any of the five therapy dogs on staff.
Quinlan also has a separate Community Service division and is proud that his department, which oversees the 14th largest city in the United States, can interact with the public in positive ways to help them feel at ease with police officers.
He and his wife Jennifer have three daughters.