When Hudson Police Chief Perry Tabak was appointed to his position in August 2018, he said he wanted to "further strengthen our relationships with the community." In the nearly two years since, the department has been working to do that.

Hudson is one of hundreds of law enforcement agencies in Ohio and one of the 21 in Summit County that are certified in at least the first group of voluntary standards designed to help improve police and community relations.

"I think overall Ohio is ahead of the curve," said Tabak.

The standards are an initiative of the Ohio Collaborative Community-Policing Advisory Board, established by former Gov. John Kasich in 2015 following fatal incidents involving Black people and police the year before, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Establishment of the Ohio Collaborative followed a 2014 executive order establishing a task force to examine "community-police relations." That order stated, "it has become apparent that too many people in communities of color feel that the protective shield that law and order is intended to provide is not working for them, and this underlying friction can only be resolved by enhancing the confidence felt by the community in their relationship with law enforcement."

The Ohio Collaborative, a 12-person panel of law enforcement experts and community leaders from around the state, has been establishing "minimum standards" for law enforcement agencies.

There are now seven standards incorporated in three groups: Group 1 sets standards for use of force and agency employee recruitment and hiring; Group 2 includes standards for community engagement, body worn cameras and telecommunicating — call taking and dispatching, and Group 3 includes standards for bias-free policing and investigating employee misconduct.

Tabak said Hudson is certified in Group 1 and seeking groups 2 and 3 certification, adding the department has established standards that "meet or exceed" group requirements.

The department has had to request a waiver for the body camera standard because it does not currently have the devices, he said, adding the department will likely have body cameras by early 2021.

Tabak’s experience with the standards goes back to his time as a captain with the Cuyahoga Falls Police Department.

He said when he came to Hudson, the department began working with a firm that specializes in helping organizations with their hiring practices in order to meet the employee recruitment and hiring standard in Group 1. The department then adopted a "personality profile" tool to test candidates in 16 different areas, such as communication ability and valuing diversity.

"It’s basically a character thing," he said. "We’re trying to make sure we’re bringing people in that we’re not going to have problems with in these touchy areas we’re talking about now. And the cool thing about it is this testing has also been vetted and verified to make sure there are no adverse impacts on the candidate, meaning the test itself is not racist or biased."

Tabak said that continuing professional training in the Group 1 use of force standard in Ohio used to be mandatory for police.

"A few years ago, [Ohio] stopped the funding for that," he said. "I think that’s where you saw some departments not keeping up with the training."

Still, he said the standards are a good step that he believes puts the state ahead of some other states that may not even have gone this far.

"You see a lot of calls for police reform and I think that having this stuff in place and evaluating best practices and procedures and things like that on a regular basis is important, rather than waiting for an incident to happen and then trying to figure out, you know, what to do," he said.

Of the 28 Summit County police agencies, seven have been certified in all three groups of standards: Bath, Boston Heights, Cuyahoga Falls, Richfield, Stow, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, and the University of Akron Police Department.

County agencies not certified in any of the groups include: Lakemore, Macedonia, Northfield Village, Peninsula, Reminderville and Silver Lake.

The city of Twinsburg is currently certified in groups 1 and 2.

"I will begin working on accreditation for Group 3 policies and the reaccreditation of Group 1 policies this summer," said Twinsburg Police Chief Chris Noga.

Noga said the department uses a company called Lexipol, which Tabak said Hudson also uses, to help it create its policies.

"This makes it very easy to ensure our policies are current and updated quickly when case law, state law or best practices change," he said.

The bias-free policing standard requires collection of data on all self-initiated traffic contacts, along with annual profiling related training that should include field contacts, traffic stops, search issues, asset seizure and forfeiture, interview techniques, cultural diversity, discrimination, and community support.

The standard also requires an annual administrative review of agency practices, data collected, and citizens’ concerns, which must be available to the public.

Noga also said he believes standards should be mandatory.

"I think the Achilles heel of law enforcement as a whole is that there is not enough standardization for hiring policies, training requirements and operational procedures," he said. 

"Most accreditation programs are voluntary, such as the program offered by the Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which is expensive," he added. "There is no mechanism to force mandatory compliance. Even the Ohio Collaborative is voluntary.

"Mandatory standardized policies would mean that every law enforcement officer would learn and be expected to follow a universal set of practices shared among law enforcement agencies of all sizes which only strengthens our profession."

Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at jsaunders@recordpub.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.