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Ohio leaders scrutinize policing

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JUSTICE FOR JOHN CRAWFORD?
This is the sixth in a series of articles focused on the 2014 police shooting of John Crawford III and its aftermath.

Read the previous article in this series
Read the next article in this series
Read all the articles in this series

In 2014, two high-profile police shooting deaths in Ohio occurred within three months of each other, sparking public outcry and calls for policing reform. John Crawford III, a 22-year-old African-American man, was killed by police in the Beavercreek Walmart on Aug. 5. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, also black, was shot by police in a Cleveland park on Nov. 22.

That December, Governor John Kasich created a task force to gather public testimony about policing practice and community-police relations and make recommendations for reform. When the task force had finished its work, Kasich appointed another group, the Ohio Collaborative, to review and adopt its recommendations. The Collaborative issued Ohio’s first-ever statewide policing standards last August, and continues the work of crafting new guidelines for law enforcement.

A separate but related effort, also driven by the Crawford and Rice shootings, began around the same time. In late 2014, Attorney General Mike DeWine appointed an advisory group on law enforcement training, made up of police and community leaders. That group looked at the whole scope of police training and recommended specific reforms that are now being put in place.

In this article in the News’ series on the Crawford shooting and its aftermath, we take an in-depth look at both these statewide reform efforts. While it is too early to predict their ultimate effect on policing in Ohio, we seek to understand their aims and early impact. Next week, we conclude the series with observations and reflections from local activists and Crawford’s father, John Crawford Jr.

First-ever statewide standards

The Ohio Collaborative has issued three statewide standards to date, with more in the works. The standards are intended to put every Ohio law enforcement agency on the same page — literally — by defining written policies on key areas of policing practice. The value of such policies is accountability, according to Collaborative member Reverend Daryl Lynch III of the New Prospect Baptist Church in Cincinnati.

“How else do we hold police accountable for abuses of power?” he asked. In his view, the standards send a message to police. “We’re letting law enforcement know that it will be held accountable. Outside eyes are watching,” he said last week.

The first two standards, issued a year ago, concern police use of force, including lethal force, and police officer recruitment and hiring.

“We had the greater sense of urgency with those,” explained Cleveland State University Professor Ronnie Dunn, a member of both the Ohio Collaborative and the earlier task force. “They seemed the most critical to address, hopefully to put a stop to controversial shooting deaths.”

The standards take the form of policy statements intended to serve as models for law enforcement. The use-of-force standard, for example, stipulates that force may be used when it is “reasonably necessary” to make a lawful arrest, prevent an offender’s escape or protect an officer or others from physical harm. The use of lethal force policy defines human life as “the highest value” in Ohio and specifies that officers may use force to defend themselves or another person from serious physical injury or death and in accordance with U.S. and Ohio Supreme Court decisions.

The second standard, on recruitment and hiring of officers, affirms the value of a “diverse workforce,” directs law enforcement to “strive to have a diverse work force that reflects the citizens served” and  states that “agencies should utilize due diligence in ensuring that their prospective employees have the proper temperament, knowledge and attitude to handle this very difficult job.”

This August, the Ohio Collaborative issued a third standard, requiring that police adopt a community engagement strategy “with a primary focus on improving police-community relations.” Future standards will likely focus on data collection to address bias-based policing, the use of body-worn cameras and law enforcement dispatching, according to Dunn.

Police departments are encouraged but not required to comply with the new standards. The Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, or OCJS, runs a certification process, but there are no penalties for non-compliance. Over 50 Ohio law enforcement agencies have been certified on the use-of-force and recruitment and hiring standards to date, according to a recent OCJS press release. That’s around 5 percent of the state’s more than 950 law enforcement agencies.

The Ohio Collaborative will issue a report in March, 2017, listing the agencies in compliance by that date. But the work of the Collaborative will continue, and the opportunity to seek certification will remain open to law enforcement.

“There are nothing but benefits to being part of [this effort],” said Karhlton Moore, OCJS’s executive director. “There’s benefit to everyone, community and police, from all of us working together.”

New standards, but what impact?

Skeptics of the new standards believe that they’re overly broad and lack the force and message of a mandate.

“I don’t think a generalization is enough to enact change,” said Yellow Springs resident Jessica Thomas, an activist in the Crawford case who has followed the task force’s work. “If you don’t know the specifics of what you’re trying to fix, how can you know what specifically to change?” she asked.

In her view, police should face penalties for non-compliance. “Giving suggestions isn’t enough. … There needs to be a real conversation about defunding police departments who are not compliant with the new policies,” she said.

Collaborative member Dunn of Cleveland State stressed that the standards are minimums, allowing agencies the latitude to craft what works for their community. “This is just a baseline that we want all departments to have. They can clearly exceed the standards,” he said.

And Lynch of Cincinnati, responding to the lack of enforced compliance, said, “We’re fighting that they become mandatory. That is our goal.”

Upcoming standards may offer more specific guidance to law enforcement. For example, the Collaborative is currently discussing a standard concerning bias-based policing. The standard would address bias in policing, and could require departments to collect demographic data for traffic, bicycle and pedestrian stops.

Demographic data collection is essential, according to Dunn. “It’s vitally important if we’re going to get to the heart of the issues that have given rise to the crisis in our nation,” he said. Demographic data is what allows police and community members to get a “true picture” of who is stopped and arrested, he said. Should the Collaborative omit data collection from the bias-related standard, “it’s questionable to me what our real commitment is.”

So far, just one local law enforcement agency, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, has been certified in the new state standards. Complying with the new standards wasn’t difficult, according to Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer.

“I don’t think we had to make any policy changes,” he said. The state standards, he explained, are “rules we basically already follow because we’re nationally certified,” referring to his agency’s accreditation through the Commission on Law Enforcement Accreditation, or CALEA, considered the “gold standard” of police accreditation.

Fifty-five law enforcement agencies in Ohio are currently certified by CALEA, meaning that for them, the new statewide standards are likely redundant. CALEA’s policy standards are much more extensive — there are 484 separate standards — and agencies are evaluated through a more rigorous process than state certification allows, according to CALEA’s Dan Shaw, who oversees accreditation in our region.

Here in Yellow Springs, the local police department is not accredited by CALEA, nor is it currently seeking state certification. Chief David Hale said last week that he is taking a “wait and see” approach to the new standards. “We’re trying to understand the ramifications of being certified,” he said.

Greene County Sheriff Fischer expressed the view that smaller agencies might benefit most from the guidance provided by the new standards. Yellow Springs police department, with 21 employees, is potentially such an agency. And in fact, when Hale arrived on the job as the new chief two years ago, the department’s policy manual contained significant gaps. For example, there wasn’t a specific hiring policy for police officers, just a general policy for Village personnel, nor did the old manual contain a written policy for use of force, according to Hale.

“We were doing things according to the law, but the written policies weren’t complete in some cases,” he said.

One of Hale’s priorities as chief has been to update and complete the department’s policy manual. While Hale believes Yellow Springs’ written policies are now in line with state standards, he doesn’t yet plan to seek certification.

“I’m confident that if we submitted our policies, they’d pass. … [But] if we’re already meeting the standards they’re asking for, what’s the benefit?”

‘Fresh look’ at police training

Alongside the statewide standards, new guidelines for police training came out of a different group, formed by Attorney General DeWine in response to the Crawford and Rice shootings. That group sought to complement rather than duplicate the Ohio Collaborative’s efforts, according to the group’s chair, Reginald Wilkinson, Ohio’s former corrections director.

“We took a look at everything training-related, getting input from many different law enforcement groups,” he said.

In an interview with the News last month, DeWine described the impetus for the effort. “With the high-profile police shootings … I thought I had the ability to impact police training. I wanted [the group] to take a fresh look at police training through fresh eyes.”

The advisory group was racially and geographically diverse and included “a lot of people from the outside not normally associated with the police,” DeWine said.

After several months of meetings, the group came up with 29 specific training recommendations. Those recommendations are now being reviewed and implemented by the attorney general’s office. All but four are either completed or in progress, according to attorney general spokesperson Jill Del Greco last month.

Highlights include new screening requirements for applicants to Ohio’s basic training academies. Academy training is mandatory for all police officer recruits. Applicants are now required to have a high school diploma or GED and pass a drug screening and fitness test, which were not previously entrance requirements. A proposed psychological exam, truth verification test and certain criminal disqualifiers are under review, said Del Greco.

DeWine stressed the importance of the proposed psychological screening, calling it a measure of an applicant’s “basic fitness” to become a police officer.

Another set of recommendations from the attorney general’s group targets the basic training curriculum, specifically, an expansion of basic training hours and courses. As of July, a new 16-hour course called “Community Diversity and Procedural Justice” was added to basic training. The course covers implicit bias, or unconscious prejudice, as well as topics related to procedural justice, or police legitimacy within a community. To accommodate this and other new courses, basic training hours have been increased from 653 to 681.

Group Chair Wilkinson, the former corrections director, believes that the new implicit bias training is one of the group’s most significant recommendations. “We immediately made sure every cop got it,” he said of the training. But he also acknowledged that such training was “just a start” on a topic that many see as fundamental to inequities in policing.

DeWine said he was pleased with the new emphasis on implicit bias training. “I think it’s essential,” he said. “We want [officers] to understand what their biases and prejudices may be.”

Basic training will also now include more scenario-based and stress-induced training, which are more realistic forms of training that “simulate the life and death decisions” that officers may face on the job, said DeWine.

Finally, the advisory group sought to expand advanced training, which officers are required to take annually. In 2016, annual advanced training hours increased from just four to 11. In 2017, they will rise to 20, with the eventual goal of 40 hours of advanced training for each officer annually. And the group recommended new training topics, including this year’s required course on community-police relations.

The Ohio legislature appropriated $5 million in 2016 to pay for the new advanced training. That money will cover reimbursements to police departments for coverage of officers absent due to training, according to Del Greco.

Advisory Group Chair Wilkinson said he “couldn’t be more pleased” with the progress on the group’s recommendations. “They’re accomplishing all of them, not just part of them,” he said of the attorney general’s office.

Another member of the group, Reverend Daryl Ward of Omega Baptist Church in Dayton, said recently that he was impressed by the seriousness of the group’s work.

“It was a substantial process,” he said. “I’m not a Republican, but I think the attorney general did a good job.”

Justice for John Crawford?

Because both of these major reform efforts emerged in response to the shooting deaths of John Crawford and Tamir Rice, it bears asking, are these reforms likely to avert future police shootings in Ohio?

“Our goal is to have fewer tragedies,” said DeWine. Better training for police in key areas decreases the likelihood of tragedy, he added. “But we’ll never know what tragedies we avoided,” he said. “You can’t tell what didn’t happen [in the] millions and millions of contacts between police officers and the public.”

To Wilkinson, it’s those “millions and millions” of community-police interactions that are the real focus of reforms. “You hear about these [shooting] cases and they are sensational. But they are not what happens every day to every cop,” he said.

Ohio Collaborative member Dunn said the absence of unrest and violence may be one indicator that Ohioans believe that leaders are working to prevent future shootings. The impact of the new reforms are difficult to gauge, he acknowledged. But at least in his city of Cleveland, he senses people have a feeling of, “Okay, something’s being done.”

Set against this measured optimism, the example of the Beavercreek police department — which responded with lethal force to a single 911 report of a “black male” in Walmart waving and pointing a gun — suggests the limits of standards and training.

The department has held CALEA accreditation since 1999, and in July was reaccredited “with excellence,” for the second time since 2013. Sean Williams, the responding officer who shot Crawford and is still on desk duty, worked on the latest accreditation effort, according to a July 30, 2016, Dayton Daily News article. As suggested earlier, CALEA accreditation is far more robust than the standards and accompanying certification that Ohio has unveiled to date.

Even more revealing, though, is an Aug. 11, 2015, report by Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers reviewing where the department stands in relation to recent state and national policing recommendations. (A department spokesperson didn’t return calls for comment about departmental changes since the 2014 Crawford shooting.) In that document, Evers states that the department averages 87 hours of annual advanced training per officer, set against the goal of 40 hours recommended by the attorney general’s advisory group. Elsewhere in his review, Evers notes that the department already collects demographic information on all traffic stops and arrests, with monthly and annual reports reviewed annually by the chief — putting Beavercreek ahead of national and state recommendations.

In summary, Evers writes, “The Beavercreek Police Department meets or exceeds the proposed recommended law enforcement changes outlined in the reports of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Governor’s Task Force on Community-Police Relations and the Advisory Group on Law Enforcement Training.”

For those seeking justice for John Crawford, that may be a discouraging conclusion.

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Ohio leaders scrutinize policing

by Audrey Hackett