COLUMBUS, Ohio — At a news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Mike DeWine outlined a wide-ranging slate of police reform proposals for Ohio, including requiring all potential police officers to undergo a psychological screening, establishing a statewide database tracking use-of-force incidents and mandating independent — not internal — investigations into all police shootings.
Reactions from lawmakers and former law enforcement officers are mixed, but those interested in police reform agree DeWine’s list is a good starting point. Agree or not, the proposed changes are going to take a lot of work and potentially a lot of money to achieve.
“The bigger picture is what we’re concerned about,” State Senator Cecil Thomas said.
Thomas was a Cincinnati police officer for nearly three decades. He along with other lawmakers are calling on the governor to declare racism a public health crisis to address what he says is at the root of the current unrest.
“Until that occurs, not just with the executive branch – you also have to have your judicial branch and your legislative branch – all be in agreement that racism is a health crisis, then we can begin to put teeth to a lot of the things that the governor is offering,” Thomas said.
He said he thinks DeWine’s proposal should include even stronger language against chokeholds and believes defunding certain agencies should be on the table as a last resort. But Thomas does agree with much of the proposed list – including psychological exams.
“We’ve got to have some mechanisms in place that will establish some red flags that can be identifiable,” Thomas said.
He said the proposal to use outside agencies for investigations is key to any reform.
“There’s obviously a level of distrust,” Thomas said. “You can’t have the police investigate themselves. You need an outside entity to decide the outcomes and to make the decisions as to what was done was proper or not.”
Former UC Police Chief Gene Ferrara said training is valuable in any department, but it’s expensive and runs counter to current nationwide calls to defund the police.
“You just can’t give me money for a Ford and expect a Rolls Royce,” he said.
Ferrara said he doesn’t believe most departments have the money to reallocate themselves.
“I would want somebody to be on the investigative agency that has some experience being out there on the street,” Ferrara said regarding outside investigators into police policy.
Both men agree there’s a way to build better policing.
“I don’t know of anyone that would have a quarrel with the concepts of this, but the devil is in the details,” Ferrara said.
The proposals are recommendations to the state legislature.
The legislative black caucus has said police reform is only one part of the change Ohio needs.
Gov. DeWine’s full list of proposals includes:
- Establishing a psychological screening process for would-be police officers that would identify and disqualify candidates with racial bias.
- Offering six free hours of conflict deescalation training, including a focus on use of force and implicit bias, for any officer in the state.
- Asking the Ohio General Assembly to identify a funding stream that will support in-depth, up-to-date training for all officers every year.
- Reclassifying chokeholds as deadly force.
- Ensuring that all use-of-force incidents and deadly shootings are investigated by independent entities such as the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, not by members of the police department under investigation. (“Simply put, law enforcement agencies should not be investigating themselves. Even if they do a great job, there is an appearance of impropriety.”)
- Keeping a statewide database of police use-of-force incidents and allowing the public to view it.
- Creating a procedure to have Ohio law enforcement officers stripped of their law enforcement certification if they violate a set of professional conduct standards.