The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month led to riots, followed by nationwide protests against racism and calls for police reform. But tightening standards for police in Ohio has been in the works for the past several years.
Cuyahoga Falls, along with most other area police departments are among hundreds of law enforcement agencies in Ohio and 21 in Summit County that are certified in at least the first of several groups of voluntary standards designed to help improve police and community relations.
In fact, Cuyahoga Falls is among seven Summit County agencies that have been certified in the first three groups of standards. The other departments that have adopted all three current state standards include Bath, Boston Heights, Richfield, Stow, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, and the University of Akron Police Department.
Cuyahoga Falls Police Capt. Todd Shafer said he believes having standards is good for the police.
"I think the benefit really is it just keeps us up to date," said Shafer. "It keeps us looking at it, keeps us reviewing things because we have to show people, like in a use of force case, we have to show people we investigate each use of force and have a determination on the outcome."
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 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.
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.
A fourth group containing a police pursuit standard was introduced this year.
Law enforcement agencies have to be re-certified every three years.
Shafer said the department has a waiver on the body camera standards because the department does not have the devices. He cited the high cost, especially of data storage.
County agencies not certified in any of the groups include: Lakemore, Macedonia, Northfield Village, Peninsula, Reminderville and Silver Lake.
Silver Lake Police Chief Jamie Norris said the department began looking into getting certifications in all of the standards in January and he believes that its policies at least qualify it for Group 1 certification, if not beyond that. And he said he does want to go beyond Group 1.
"We’re going to keep watching and see what new things come down through the state," he said. "And whatever we need to do to be in compliance with those guidelines, we’ll do it."
He said the department would need a waiver for telecommunicating in Group 2 because Cuyahoga Falls handles dispatching for the village under a contract.
Norris also said that there was a previous attempt to get certifications prior to his appointment as chief at the beginning of 2019, but he is uncertain why it did not go far.
Stow Police Chief Jeff Film said his department does not have any waivers and is currently working on certification in the police pursuits standard.
"We expect we will absolutely be in compliance by the end of the year," he said.
Film said that at one time, the state mandated training in a variety of areas, but in recent years, defunded that training so that now, firearms certifications is the only remaining mandate. Still, he said the department has tried to maintain training standards that is "above and beyond" and he would like to a restoration in statewide mandates.
"This brings consistency and uniformity with Ohio law enforcement agencies, whether it be use of force, pursuits and the other policies," he said. "It makes us more consistent, more professional law enforcement agencies…In this time we’re currently going through, a mandate I’d like to see the governor, the attorney general, come down with is all departments have to be compliant with the collaborative."
Tallmadge Police Chief Ron Williams said Tallmadge is certified in the first group and is working on the next two groups.
"What we’ve done is we’ve geared our policies to be in compliance," said Williams. "Now we just have to have somebody come and evaluate us on the others."
He said the department has a waiver on the telecommunicating standard because its dispatching is handled by Stow under a contract.
Munroe Falls Police Chief Jerry Hughes said his department is certified in the first two groups and he is preparing paperwork for certification in Group 3. The department has waivers, he said for telecommunicating because its dispatching is handled by Cuyahoga Falls and for body cameras because the department does not have them.
Williams said Floyd’s death hit many police officers hard.
"Most police officers are honest, hard-working people who are dedicated and feel a deep sense of commitment to the community which they serve," he said. "Many of them commit extra time and effort from their personal life as a result. The overwhelming majority adhere to organizational values such as treating all people fairly and equally, and most came here already possessing those qualities."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at email@example.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.