Area police departments are revamping their policies to comply with state recommendations in several areas, with Sagamore Hills being the first in Nordonia Hills to be certified as having adopted standards related to the use of force, use of deadly force, and agency recruitment and hiring.
"What this means for the officer on the street is that what they're doing every day in those areas has all been certified as accepted by the state of Ohio," Sagamore Hills Police Chief David Hayes told me a few weeks ago, when I got the press release regarding the certification.
The city of Macedonia' is expecting certification soon, as it has updated its police policy manual concerning use of force and recruitment and hiring, Macedonia Police Lt. Vince Yakopovich told me.
"I didn't have to make many changes to our policy manual," Yakopovich said.
The state standards were set by the Ohio Collaborative Community-Policing Advisory Board, a 12-member body appointed by Gov. John Kasich in 2014 following the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland and a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.
According to its website, the task force's purpose is "to improve community-police relations and find solutions to the tensions and concerns between community members and the police that serve them."
It sounded fairly impressive, until I got a chance to actually look at the standards, available at the Collaborative's website: www.ocjs.ohio.gov/ohiocollaborative.
I was almost surprised someone had bothered to send me a release on the issue, as our local police department standards are much more detailed.
For example, the state-recommended policy on use of force is one sentence -- "Employees may only use the force which is reasonably necessary to effect lawful objectives including: effecting a lawful arrest or overcoming resistance to a lawful arrest, preventing the escape of an offender, or protecting or defending others or themselves from physical harm."
The Macedonia Police Department's use of force policy -- a multi-page section of the department manual -- incorporates the above sentence, but also includes a general statement on when use of force is allowed, a list of definitions, a list of nine factors officers should consider before applying force, a section outlining appropriate responses to increasing levels of aggression officers may encounter, reporting requirements, training and testing requirements. The use of deadly force state standard is incorporated in the use of force policy.
Likewise, the Sagamore Hills Police Department's use of force policy also incorporates the state standards on use of force and use of deadly force in a nine-page chapter of the department's policy manual. It also includes some prohibitions, such as a statement officers "should not" use techniques that would restrict blood flow to the head or respiration, as well as a prohibition against the "rarely effective" tactic of shooting from or at moving vehicles.
I haven't had a chance to look at the village's policy, but Northfield Village Officer in Charge John Zolgus said the department is planning to hire public safety consulting firm Lexipol to upgrade his department's policies. Lexipol is the same company Sagamore Hills uses to keep its police policies in line with changes in state law.
Some of the other state-recommended policies -- Community Engagement; Body Worn Cameras; Law Enforcement Telecommunicator Training; and Bias-Free Policing -- are more detailed. I would bet that our local departmental policies are even more comprehensive.
Hayes, Yakopovich and Zolgus said their departments plan to work on complying with those standards as well, though Sagamore Hills is the only one of the three departments with body cameras.
According to the Collaborative's website, "These new standards will hold everyone accountable and instill a greater confidence with the public ... All law enforcement agencies are expected to meet or exceed these new standards as they develop policies and procedures to meet these new expectations."
While complying with the standards is voluntary, Hayes told me the state had considered -- but rejected -- a plan to link compliance with the standards with eligibility for grants.
Police have always told me that training is essential to good law enforcement practice.
In other words, it's one thing to have rules and policies written into a manual, but incorporating those standards into action is a matter of training, supervision, mentoring and experience.
As Yakopovich told me, you can't write a policy for every contingency.
With so much on the line, I find it hard to see how any agency could operate solely on the minimalist standards the state has outlined.
But on the other hand, as Hayes put it, the standards at least require that "whether you're a large department, or a small department, you're doing the same thing."
Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433