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Policing With a Licensing and Oversight Board

I don’t ordinarily post articles written in first person. Nor do I share my opinion regarding the wisdom of legislation, executive orders, or court decisions. Lawyering is not about having an opinion. Rather, my role, as a lawyer, is to know and apply the law, so I can zealously and effectively represent my clients. Having said that, I am going to dive into the rocky sea of “police reform” that has recently become the hottest political opportunity.

Most of what I’ve heard regarding police reform in the past week has been regurgitation of old ideas and political grandstanding. Politicians everywhere, from the president to city managers, have seized the opportunity to repeat that which has been discussed and implemented over the past five years through the 2015 Final Report of the President’s Task Force on Twenty-First century Policing. Police legitimacy, procedural justice, de-escalation, and recruiting are no longer new topics for police officers. However, they might be unfamiliar terms to the general public who does not work in law enforcement. Therefore, politicians seem to be seizing the opportunity to repeat these buzz words in order to give an appearance of being innovative. Some have been bold enough to claim the 1989 United States Supreme Court holding in Graham v. O’Connor as their own innovative idea while banning the use chokeholds except in lethal force situations.

Nonetheless, there have been some significant proposals that, if implemented, could mean a sea of change for law enforcement. Most notably being Governor Mike DeWine’s proposal that Ohio create a licensing and oversight board for police officers. During a press conference, Governor DeWine envisioned a board that would oversee the licensing of police officers similar to those that oversee the licensing and professional conduct of doctors and lawyers.

It is way too soon to know to what extent a police licensing and oversight board will impact the law enforcement profession. However, there is potential that it could lead to an entire body of law that is applicable only to police departments and police officers. With a new body of law, legal challenges before the board are likely to arise along with constitutional due process challenges before the courts. Police unions are likely to be prepared to represent their members in licensing and disciplinary matters before the board. However, non-union officers will have to be diligent in following the development of the oversight board and its rules of professional conduct.

The impact of the proposed board rules and reforms are not likely to be limited to individual officers. Rather, police agencies are likely to see mandatory compliance in the areas of training, policy, practices, and reporting. Depending on what direction the legislature decides to go, police departments may find themselves facing mandatory compliance matters similar to those facing CALEA certified police departments. Large city law departments will have the resources to represent their respective police departments in such matters. However, smaller police departments may find it difficult to stay abreast of new developments and in compliance with mandatory standards.

For generations, police research and best practices have been based on what works in large urban police departments. Minimal research has explored policing in rural, suburban, or campus communities. These smaller police departments have learned their craft through trial and error and, when possible, adapting urban policing tactics to their unique environments. As police reform roles out in the State of Ohio, all police departments will be required to comply regardless of size, resources, and community needs. Small police department leaders would be best advised to begin developing a compliance strategy before formal rules are announced.

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