Ohio lawmakers are considering a proposal to establish a statewide oversight and licensing board for law enforcement to make sure rogue officers are held accountable for serious misconduct.
According to Jeffrey Scott, who drafted the proposal, having a panel that could monitor and provide clear, consistent standards for the state’s law enforcement agencies while making it easier to impose sanctions on officer misconduct would go a long way toward improving community trust. Scott is a former police chief at Notre Dame College and the former executive director of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA).
“Good officers don’t like bad officers because they make them look bad, but there is a limited measure of actions to remove bad officers,” Scott told Cleveland.com.
State licensing boards and oversight panels are common in other professions, such as doctors, lawyers and even barbers. In Ohio, however, cities, townships and counties are responsible for overseeing their police departments without state interference.
Scott’s proposal would change that by requiring uniform standards and conformity to a state body for Ohio’s more than 800 individual law enforcement agencies. It would also increase training requirements for officers across the state and even require leaders such as sheriffs or police chiefs to have college degrees and more years of experience.
“The problem is lack of leadership, lack of oversight, lack of accountability and lack of best practice standards,” Scott said. “You will be amazed how many departments don’t have any policies or haven’t updated them within 30 years.”
Marc Dann, a former Ohio attorney general, commented on the proposal: “Law enforcement is wrapped in tradition, so changing the culture and tradition in a field that is so laden with that will require some thought and respect for the fact that it’s going to take some time to change.”
Funding could be the biggest hurdle to implement Scott’s plan, which includes more training and increased salaries.
“I mean, the idea that people are earning $30,000 in positions of authority and responsibility like that is very scary,” Dann said.
Currently, OPOTA mandates 24 hours of continued professional training for officers, which Scott thinks is not enough. He wants 40 hours of training with a focus on de-escalation and defensive tactics, excessive force training and community engagement.
In 2015, the Ohio Collaborative Community Policing Advisory Board recommended voluntary standards for agencies. Scott’s plan would not be voluntary, but would require agencies to conform to statewide standards and oversight on policies and procedures such as the use of force, citizen complaints and reviews, vehicle pursuits, disciplinary procedures and internal investigations, constitutional compliance and bias-free policing.
“This would offer another layer of accountability that has been missing with police. There is a wide range of behavior that is often overlooked and ignored by local departments. There needs to be uniform standards in the oversight of police officers,” said Cleveland civil rights attorney Terry Gilbert.