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Governor DeWine Proposes Significant Law Enforcement Reforms

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

Governor Mike DeWine, along with Attorney General Dave Yost, held a press conference today during which he addressed “meaningful law enforcement reform.” The governor defined meaningful reform as that which improves law enforcement accountability, training, and transparency. The address announced a few immediate changes to Ohio law enforcement while also asking the legislature to consider significant changes to the law enforcement profession.

The immediate changes include:

1. Dr. Patrick Oliver of Cedarville University will head the newly created Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment. The new office will develop best practices for recruiting in law enforcement and will assist Ohio law enforcement agencies in recruiting minority and women police officers. In addition to serving as the director of Cedarville University’s Criminal Justice Program, Dr. Oliver has twenty-seven years of law enforcement experience, which includes service as a chief of police with multiple Ohio agencies.

2. Ohio State Highway Patrol will no longer investigate lethal force incidents involving its own troopers. Rather, such investigations will be handled by Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.

3. Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice Services will provide for six hours of de-escalation training for all Ohio police officers.

4. Law enforcement officers employed by the State of Ohio may not use a chokehold unless they are in a lethal force situation. The governor did not define “chokehold” and, when asked, seemed to struggle with a definition for “lethal force situation.”

In addition to the above changes, Governor DeWine also asked that the Ohio General Assembly to immediately begin exploring legislation in the following areas:

1. Mandatory psychological evaluations for applicants prior to admission to an Ohio police academy.

2. Mandatory reference checks of all police applicants after graduating the police academy but before appointment as a police officer.

3. Identifying a permanent funding stream for law enforcement training. Finding an adequate funding stream would allow the state to mandate more annual training for all police officers in the State of Ohio.

4. In conjunction with the Office of Criminal Justice Services, crafting a standard definition of “use of force” and mandating all police departments in the state to report all use of force incidents to the Office of Criminal Justice Services.

5. Prohibiting Ohio police officers from using chokeholds unless they are in a lethal force situation.

6. Mandatory “outside” investigations of police use of lethal force incidents and in custody deaths. Under this proposal, police departments could still conduct their own internal investigations in such cases, but an investigation conducted by an outside agency would be mandatory. The governor suggested that the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation would be the most likely agency to conduct outside investigations.

7. Mandatory use of independent prosecutors when police officers are prosecuted for unlawful uses of force, meaning that local prosecutors would not be permitted to conduct such prosecutions.

8. Explore ways in which the state can help local police departments mandate and fund body worn camera programs.

9. Expanded minimum training hours for the basic police academy as well as expanded scenario-based training.

10. What might be the most significant proposal was the governor’s request that the legislature create a licensing and oversight board for all police officers in the state of Ohio. The board would be responsible for setting standards for issuance of professional police officer licenses. The board would also be responsible for developing and enforcing rules of professional conduct for police officers. The board would have the authority to impose licensing sanctions on officers who violate the standards of conduct. The governor envisioned a licensing board and compliance scheme similar to those used used for attorneys and doctors that can disbar or suspend professional licenses.

It is hard to say what precise impact these changes will have as many of them are still broad proposals. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that these proposals, if implemented, will certainly have an impact on Ohio police departments and the state’s 25,000 individual police officers. These proposals could bring a host of compliance issues, particularly as it relates to the proposed licensing and oversight board. Although the governor was confident that Ohio’s legislators will begin working on these measures immediately, it is likely that such reform will be rolled out over the course of years.

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