Calls to 911 were made to Columbus (OH) Police dispatchers for more than four hours before officers broke up a large, destructive block party called "Chitt Fest" on Chittenden Avenue April 17 into April 18, NBC4 reports.
The earliest time-stamped recording was from 10:13 p.m. The last time stamp was 2:17 a.m.
The calls placed during this four-hour, four-minute window tell the story of escalating fear and pandemonium.
“They’re flipping cars. It’s turning into a straight-out riot,” one caller said.
At 2:02 a.m., one dispatcher told a caller, “There’s not a whole lot we’re able to do about it.”
“I felt helpless,” said an Ohio State University student who lives on Chittenden Avenue. “It didn’t feel good to call authority and (for) them tell you there’s nothing they could do about it, as people were flipping cars. It’s ridiculous.”
CPD Patrol Commander Dennis Jeffrey said officers moved in around 2:40 a.m. to disperse the crowd, more than four hours and 20 minutes after the first call.
Asked why it took so long to engage the crowd, Jeffrey said, “Mainly because we have new rules of engagement for large gatherings.”
The changes state that chemical irritants, including tear gas, cannot be used to disperse crowds. Officers are also no longer allowed to use chemical spray to break up a group of people, unless that group is behaving aggressively towards officers or other people.
The revised CPD policy states explicitly that, “Failure to leave a street or to move, by itself, shall not justify the use of chemical spray against a non-aggressive, non-violent crowd.”
Columbus Division of Police Acting Chief Tim Becker issued a statement after this story ran saying:
On April 18, 2021, a party referred to as “Chittfest” occurred in the off-campus area of Chittenden Avenue near Indianola Avenue. The Columbus Division of Police learned of this unofficial festival a few days before the event, and on April 17, 2021, police personnel went door to door on Chittenden Avenue, encouraging residents to control parties and warning of possible legal repercussions. Mutual aid from the Ohio State University was requested.
Any statements that Division policy prevented police from responding are not accurate. The Division regrets any confusion caused by inaccurate or incomplete statements. Several factors impacted the response, including available staffing and the size of the crowd. Division personnel were spread across thecity handling many calls for service. Personnel at the “Chittfest” scene were vastly outnumbered by the crowd by a ratio of approximately 40 to 1,000.
Division policy allows personnel to use Division-issued chemical spray to disperse a congregation of individuals if the congregation is engaging in aggressive or violent actions towards officers or others, as some were in this event. While the property damage by participants was not acceptable, police were able to end the situation without using force.
Ultimately decisions on when to engage the crowd were made based on available staffing, the level of aggressiveness by the participants and public sentiments towards police crowd control tactics in previous events.
As with all incidents of civil unrest, the Division is evaluating actions to improve outcomes should a similar situation occur in the future. The senseless destruction of property was criminal, and the Division is taking actions to identify those responsible and hold them accountable.