With police reform bills on the books in Ohio, what could be signed into law?

Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-29 19:51:20-04

The protests have quieted down here in the Tri-State, but the calls for racial equality and justice are still loud and clear. WCPO will examine where the movement goes from here in "From Protests to Solutions - The Movement for Change," airing at 7:30 tonight on WCPO and wherever you stream WCPO 9.

Nationwide protests against police brutality following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd pushed Ohio lawmakers to write a record number of police reform bills.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he sees motivation behind the bills on both sides.

“Some of the very tragic cases … there's no American who can look at that, look at the chokehold and a person dying on the screen, no one can look at that and be happy with that,” DeWine said.

Fourteen proposed bills landed in the state’s legislature after Floyd’s death, including bills targeting biased policing (House Bill 710), arrest and ticket quotas (HB 713), de-escalation training (HB 706) and use of force (Senate Concurrent Resolution 16 and HB 709).

Ohio does not have a definition that constitutes what excessive force is, and officers who use guns, Tasers or their hands to detain people only report it to Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice if they want to, Rep. Sedrick Denson said.

Denson, of Bond Hill, co-wrote House Bill 709, which would make these instances mandatory to report.

Sen. Cecil Thomas is pushing a bill that attacks status profiling, or stopping low-income people more frequently than wealthy people.

"One of the areas of concern has to be our Fraternal Order of Police. They have to be at the table, to stay at the table, when it talks about other methods of reform, what can we do better,” Thomas said.

Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils said he believes the collective bargaining agreement helps uphold better policing.

Earlier this month, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley released a report on police reform and racial justice, which he helped write. The report calls for reforming the system that allows discipline against officers who commit misconduct to be overturned by arbitration.

The report also says collective bargaining agreements block investigations when complaints begin with “anonymous tips” or “video from a bystander.”

CBA provisions also delay investigations with long “recovery” and “cooling off” periods for accused officers while requiring resolution in 90 days, according to the report.

The report also says some CBAs require disciplinary records to be destroyed even if investigations led to suspension or worse.

Cranley said it’s a problem that requires negotiation with the Fraternal Order of Police.

"You have officers who have been attempted to be fired or disciplined reinstated against the will of the police chief ... it's happened here multiple times. It happens in every city in America,” Cranley said.

Hils said he disagrees with that assessment and that he has seen Police Chief Eliot Isaac discipline officers on several occasions.

"I haven't seen officers that have horrible records returned again and again or anything of that nature,” Hils said.

Hils said he has seen “very politically motivated discipline” and he believes everyone — both suspects and police officers — has a right to a hearing.

"In some cases, the people who want to tear down policing are getting what they want. They're getting people to be interested in law enforcement,” Hils said.

Thomas said he believes that good police officers want to do the right thing.

"An officer that feels, ‘I can't do it the way I used to be able to do it,’ those officers are probably the ones that want to leave,” Thomas said.

Rep. Cindy Abrams, a former Cincinnati police officer, co-wrote House Bill 703, which calls for the General Assembly to study and implement professional police practices in Ohio.

"We have met with chiefs, we've met with sheriffs, we've met with the FOP, we've met with faith-based leaders. We have met with anyone who wants to meet with us,” Abrams said.

The bill, backed by Gov. DeWine, calls for a statewide disciplinary database to prevent police officers who were forced out of a job from joining smaller departments.

"You might wonder, ‘Why don't they ask?’ I mean, sometimes they don't have the resources to actually fully investigate someone's background,” Abrams said.

Abrams’ proposal would create new oversight no different than medical boards. But this one would control who is licensed to enforce Ohio law.

So far, that idea has only Republican signatures, but with Democrats pushing similar moves, DeWine said he expects reform soon.

"I'm sure that we'll end up with a good solid bill that I can sign and will make a difference,” DeWine said.

In Cincinnati, City Council will discuss and could vote on Cranley’s proposed police reforms. Cranley said he expects unanimous approval.

"In my opinion, practical and reasonable reform is the best thing long-term to improve morale of the police and reduce gun violence,” Cranley said.

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