Police reform has become a hot political and social issue. Reform proposals have ranged from defunding police departments altogether to allocating more funding for police training and equipment. Politicians have responded to calls for reform by way of legislation. According to a database maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures, twenty-eight states have recently introduced police reform bills of some sort.
Ohio’s legislators have weighed in on the topic by introducing a total of twelve bills related to police reform. It is hard to predict which, if any, legislative bills will make it to the governor’s desk. Certainly not all of them will. Some bills will die in the chamber in which they were introduced while others will die elsewhere in the legislative process. Below is a brief summary of legislation that has been introduced so far with key points related to each bill.
I. House Bill 613 – Require Instruction on Proper Interaction with Police
House Bill 613 was introduced on May 4, 2020. The bill proposes police officers, high school students, and new drivers receive mandatory instruction on how police and citizens should interact during traffic stops or other encounters. Much of the proposed training for police officers is already taught during the basic police academy as well as in-service trainings. Nonetheless, the proposed mandatory training for law enforcement would include:
1. When a peace officer may require a person to exit a vehicle;
2. Constitutional protections from illegal search and seizure;
3. Rights of a passenger in a vehicle that has been pulled over;
4. Right of a citizen to record an encounter with a peace officer;
5. Diffusing stressful encounters with civilians;
6. Laws regarding detention, questioning, and proof of identity.
H.B. 613 also calls for mandatory instruction for Ohio’s high school students and new drivers to receive instruction on proper interaction with law enforcement. The proposed curriculum would include the same training mandated for police officers as well as:
1. Who is considered a “peace officer” under Ohio law and what a peace officer’s duties and responsibilities include, and;
2. Procedures for filing a complaint against or a compliment on behalf of a peace officer.
H.B. 613 was referred to the House Criminal Justice Committee on May 12th and has not yet been reported on by the committee.
II. House Bill 690 – Require the Director of the Legislative Service Commission to Prepare Human Impact Statements
House Bill 690 is not aimed at law enforcement, so it might not be considered a police reform effort by some. Rather the bill is aimed at Ohio’s legislators to ensure they consider whether a new or amended criminal law might have a disparate impact on minority groups. Specifically, the proposed law would require the Legislative Service Commission to draft a “human impact statement” for any new or amended criminal law or law that impacts incarceration and sentencing. The human impact statement would make one of four conclusions:
1. The proposed law would have a disparate impact on a racial, ethnic, age, or gender group;
2. The proposed law would not have a disparate impact on a racial, ethnic, age, or gender group;
3. It cannot be determined whether the proposed law would have a disparate impact on a racial, ethnic, age, or gender group, or;
4. It cannot be determined at the present time whether the proposed law would have a disparate impact on a racial, ethnic, age, or gender group.
House Bill 690 was introduced on June 3, 2020 with bipartisan support. It was referred to the House Criminal Justice committee and has not yet been reported on by the committee.
III. House Bill 703 – Study and Implement Professional Police Practices in Ohio
H.B. 703 was introduced on June 11, 2020. The content of the bill is closely aligned with Governor DeWine’s proposal and call for the Ohio General Assembly to act on police reform. The bill calls for the Ohio General Assembly to broadly study and implement the following:
1. Standardizing the police disciplinary process and implementing a new disciplinary arbitration process;
2. Having B.C.I. investigate all police-involved shootings;
3. Reviewing compensation for police officers and improving training;
4. Maintaining an adequate span of control and establishing a proper supervisor to police officer ratio;
5. Establishing a time limit on how long a prosecutor has to present a case to a grand jury;
6. Creating a police officer certificate oversight board;
7. Creating an internal complaint oversight committee for police officer suspensions;
8. Streamlining traffic laws;
9. Terminating police officers who are convicted of felony or first-degree misdemeanor crimes of violence;
10. Standardizing police hiring practices to include psychological testing;
11. Exploring the elimination of civil service tests and modernizing recruiting strategies to increase hiring minority officers;
12. Exploring a statewide disciplinary database for police officers who were suspended for improper use of force, dishonesty, or moral turpitude;
13. Exploring codifying the recommendations of the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board;
14. Implementing mental health and crisis intervention training, and;
15. Studying implementation of more stringent continuing education requirements for police officers.
H.B. 703 is broad and does not yet implement any of the above points. Rather it calls for the General Assembly to begin studying these issues. Nonetheless, the bill has potential to have a significant impact in the future by way of creating mandates if the legislature’s study finds such matters to be appropriate reform measures. The bill could also have an impact on matters, such as discipline, that are traditionally subjects of collective bargaining. H.B. 703 had just two sponsors when introduced and has not yet been referred to a committee for debate.
IV. H.B. 706 – Require Peace Officers to Complete Training on De-Escalation Techniques, Implicit Bias, Procedural Justice, and Mental Health issues
House Bill 706 was introduced on June 23, 2020 and has not yet been referred to a committee. If passed, the bill would require the Attorney General to adopt rules that require police officers to receive annual training in de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, procedural justice, and mental health issues. The bill would also require police departments to provide their officers with information regarding mental health resources and support available to police officers. The bill includes monetary appropriations to help fund the mandatory training for 2020 and 2021. Finally, H.B. 706 would require police departments to adopt a written policy that requires officers to utilize de-escalation techniques whenever possible.
The bill does not require a specific curriculum regarding de-escalation training. However, H.B. 706 calls for the Attorney General to consider, among other things, the use of time, distance and cover, alternatives to jail, arrest and citation, shoot/don’t shoot scenario-based training, and communication and negotiation techniques.
V. H.B. 707 – Prohibit the Use of Tear Gas by Police
House Bill 707 was introduced on June 25, 2020. The bill consists of just three paragraphs and is a little vague. The proposed law would require Ohio police departments to adopt written policies and procedures for officers “to follow prohibiting the use of tear gas by peace officers.” The written policy must include sanctions to be imposed on officers who do not comply with the agency’s tear gas procedure and policy. The language of the bill is unclear whether it is an outright prohibition on the use of tear gas or whether it allows police departments to determine on its own when tear gas can and cannot be deployed. H.B. 707 has not yet been referred to a committee for debate.
VI. H.B. 709 – Establish a Database for Police Use of Force
House Bill 709 was introduced on June 25, 2020 with bipartisan support and has not yet been referred to a committee for debate. The bill calls for the Attorney General to establish and maintain a database of certain use of force incidents involving Ohio peace officers. Under the proposed law, Ohio police departments would be required to report the following uses of force incidents to the Attorney General:
1. When an officer’s use of force results in the death of a person;
2. When an officer’s use of force results in serious bodily injury to a person, and;
3. When an officer discharges a firearm at or in the direction of a person.
The Attorney general would in turn be required to analyze the use of force reports and publish an annual report regarding such incidents.
VII. H.B.710 – Prohibit Police from Engaging in Biased Policing
House Bill 710 is a lengthy bill that aims to address biased policing and status-based profiling. The bill calls for mandatory basic academy training and ongoing in-service training on biased policing and status-based profiling. The curriculum for such training would include, among other topics, understanding the history of biased policing and status-based profiling, identifying biased policing and status-based profiling, and self-evaluation strategies.
The bill also calls for police departments to adopt policies that prohibit biased policing and status-based profiling. Such policies would include reporting requirements for traffic and pedestrian stops as well as narcotic K-9 use reporting requirements. Data from those reports would be sent to the Attorney General for analysis of whether an agency shows a pattern of disparate enforcement practices. Finally, H.B. 710 would create a private cause of action against police officers who are found to have engaged in biased policing or status-based profiling. H.B. 710 has not yet been referred to a committee.
VIII. H.B. 712 – To Require the Attorney General to Create a Database for Police Officer Hiring Eligibility
House Bill 712 was introduced on July 1, 2020 with bipartisan support. The proposed law would require the Attorney General to create and maintain a database of police officers who:
1. Have been terminated;
2. Resigned in lieu of termination;
3. Resigned during a departmental investigation, or;
4. Resigned before a disciplinary hearing.
All Ohio police departments would be required to report such officers to the Attorney General and would have free access to the database. Police departments would also be required to check the database before hiring a new officer. The bill also makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to access the database for purposes other than hiring or to use information gained from the database to harass or intimidate another person. H.B. 712 has not yet been referred to a committee for debate.
IX. H.B. 713 – To Prohibit Law Enforcement Agencies from Using Arrest and Citation Quotas
House Bill 713 was introduced on July 1, 2020 with bipartisan support. As the title suggests, H.B. 713 would prohibit law enforcement agencies from establishing formal arrest and citation quotas and would prohibit police departments from relying on arrest and citation numbers as a basis for officer evaluations. The bill also prohibits the informal use of quotas by prohibiting law enforcement agencies from suggesting that an officer should issue a specific number of citations or arrests. An anonymous reporting mechanism would be made available under the bill for officers to report agencies that rely on arrest and citation quotas. The Attorney General would in turn be obligated to investigate such anonymous complaints.
In addition to prohibiting quotas, the bill would also require law enforcement agencies to consider the following factors when evaluating officers for promotion, compensation, transfer, or discipline:
1. The number of contacts an officer makes with citizens including wellness checks, public safety discussions, and other positive interactions unrelated to criminal enforcement or investigation;
2. The number of community events that an officer attends and actively participates in, and;
3. Complaints and commendations received by an officer.
Police departments would remain free to consider other factors in making officer evaluations so long as they do not include quotas and, at a minimum, include the above three required evaluative factors. H.B. 713 has not yet been referred to a committee for debate.
X. H.B. 716 – Create the Offense of Strangulation by a Law Enforcement Officer
House Bill 716 was introduced on July 1, 2020. The bill consists of just five sentences and makes it a felony of the third degree for a law enforcement officer to “knowingly cause serious physical harm to a person by knowingly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the throat or neck, or by blocking the nose or mouth, of the person.” H.B. 716 has not yet been referred to a committee for debate.
XI. H.B. 718 – Allow a Police Department to Fill a Vacant Position Without a Competitive Examination
House Bill 718 was introduced on July 1, 2020. The bill does not propose an outright abolishment of civil service examinations for police officers. However, it would allow for police departments to temporarily suspend civil service competitive examination rules when it can be demonstrated that it is impracticable to do so. Under the proposed law, a competitive civil service exam would be impracticable when the position would best be filled by an applicant with a specialized certification, or peculiar or exceptional qualifications. H.B. 718 has not yet been referred to a committee for debate.
XII. H.B. 721 - To Prohibit a Political Subdivision from Receiving Certain Military Surplus Equipment
House Bill 721 was introduced on July 1, 2020. The bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from receiving the following property from a military equipment surplus program:
1. Drones that are armored and/or weaponized;
2. Aircraft that are combat configured or combat coded;
3. Grenades or similar explosives or grenade launchers;
4. Silencers, or;
5. Weaponized armored vehicles.
Law enforcement agencies would still be permitted to purchase other non-prohibited items from a military surplus program. However, the agency would be required to publish a notice of their request for equipment. H.B. 721 has not yet been assigned to a committee for debate.
Police reform is not a new topic. Police agencies of all sizes have been adopting recommended practices that began emerging around 2015 with the President’s Task Force on Twenty-First Century Policing and with Ohio’s Collaborative on Police-Community Relations. However, current proposals seem to aim at converting recommended police practices into mandated police practices.
It is nearly impossible to predict which, if any, of the proposed legislation will become law because it is likely to be based on partisan support. Furthermore, stakeholder organizations and law enforcement associations will likely have an opportunity to weigh in through committee hearings and testimony. Nonetheless, it remains possible that some sort of legislation related to police reform will eventually land on the governor’s desk. Until then, police leaders and managers should stay abreast of legislative developments and, if they have not done so already, become familiar with the latest recommended practices. Doing so will make for an easy transition should any of the recommended law enforcement practices become legal mandates.
About Jim Gilbride
Jim Gilbride is an Ohio attorney who provides counsel to small police departments. Jim served as a police officer for twenty years before opening his law practice. Jim has become familiar with the policy challenges facing law enforcement after serving for both a mid-size agency and a small agency. Jim also has law enforcement leadership and management experience at the rank of captain. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy as well as Ohio’s Police Executive Leadership College.