Nordonia Hills law enforcement adopting state standards

JEFF SAUNDERS
Reporter
A group of prospective police officers take the civil service examination at Macedonia City Hall in 2017.

NORDONIA HILLS — As protesters call for police reforms following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, area police officials say they support the state making strides in tightening policing standards.

The Sagamore Hills and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, which polices Northfield Center Township, are among hundreds of law enforcement agencies in Ohio and 21 in Summit County that are certified in at least some voluntary standards designed to help improve police and community relations.

In addition, the Macedonia and Northfield Village police departments say they are in the process of seeking certifications.

“It makes everything uniform across the state so everyone’s held to the same standard, everyone’s doing the same thing” said Northfield Village Police Chief John Zolgus.

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.

The sheriff’s office is among seven Summit County law enforcement agencies that have been certified in the first three groups of standards. They also include Bath, Boston Heights, Cuyahoga Falls, Richfield, Stow, and the University of Akron Police Department.

Sheriff’s Inspector Bill Holland said the sheriff’s office became certified in Group 3 in June and works hard on its policies.

It has “reviewed best practices by law enforcement agencies across the country and we have updated our policies and procedures,” said Holland.

Sagamore Hills Police Chief David Hayes said the department uses a company called Lexipol to develop its policies and procedures.

“They update our policies to be compliant to the Ohio Collaborative,” he said. “We are certified in Group 1 and are working on the others. Whenever an Ohio Collaborative complaint policy is sent by Lexipol, we add it to our existing policies. Each officer is then issued it and attests that they have read it. Officers receive and complete daily training bulletins that are reviews of selected polices.”

Zolgus said the village department has submitted Group 1 and Group 2 policies to the Ohio Collaborative for review and he expects polices for Groups 3 and 4 would be submitted in June. He said the department also uses Lexipol, which incorporates the Ohio Collaborative standards into the some 500 pages of policies and procedures that it developed for the department.

“We’re compliant in all four groups,” said Zolgus. “It’s just a matter of uploading certain information to the state and them saying, ‘OK, you’re good to go.’”

Macedonia Police Lt. Vince Yakopovich, who is overseeing the department’s efforts to attain certifications, said so far policies for certification in Group 1 have been submitted to the state for review and “we are in the process of obtaining certifications in all four groups.”

“The value of having standards in the state is an overall positive for everyone,” he said. “It will bring all departments up to the same level of accountability and supports the city's goal of continuously working to improve community relations.”

Yakopovich said the department does not use Lexipol, but this has not stopped it from revising its policies to meet the standards.

“The city continuously reviews its policies to ensure they meet if not exceed minimum standards,” said Yakopovich. “This included a review in 2015, immediately after the [Ohio Collaborative] released its compliance standards. Our policies currently meet or exceed these minimum standards.”

Zolgus said that besides the policies, police departments have to submit other documentation as well, including the signed daily training bulletins.

“If it was just uploading the policy and them reading the policy and then, ‘Yeah, the wording is right,’ then it’d be real easy,” he said. “But there’s other information that goes along with it.”

He said the final step in getting a certification is a visit by Ohio Collaborative representatives.

Zolgus said he believes the standards should not be voluntary.

“I think we’re in a day and age that it just needs to be that way,” he said. “It needs to be mandatory, it needs to be standard so that everybody is held to the same standards. So you don’t have one county does this and another county does this or a police department does it this way. It should be uniform.”

Go to https://www.ocjs.ohio.gov/ohiocollaborative for more information about the Ohio Collaborative and the standards.

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