Law enforcement agencies across the Miami Valley are making changes in the wake of protests over George Floyd’s death, a Dayton Daily News survey found.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Centerville, Dayton, Huber Heights, Xenia, Yellow Springs, Fairborn and Beavercreek are among those making changes, including to their policies on chokeholds and an officer’s duty to intervene, the survey results showed.
The Dayton Daily News wanted to know what policies our local law enforcement departments use, the makeup of their forces, how much training officers get and how often they use force. So the newspaper surveyed about 30 law enforcement agencies in Montgomery, Greene, Miami and Warren counties and 15 departments responded.
A white Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd, a Black man, on May 25 after kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes while other officers stood by, sparking protests across the country and in more than 25 local communities in the Dayton region. Many of the protesters have sought reforms in policing.
“I totally agree with a lot of people out there that we have room for improvement,” chiefs association President William Balling told the Dayton Daily News.
Local departments responding to this news organization’s survey say they have documented a total of more than 2,300 instances of use of force since 2018, that the majority of sworn officers are required to undergo annual bias training and that about half of the agencies use body cameras.
Results also indicated that only two responding departments — Dayton and Trotwood — have minorities that make up at least 10% of their sworn officers while two others — Oakwood and West Carrollton — have no minority officers.
While revising policies is a positive step, every law enforcement official should know stopping excessive force by other officers is their duty, said the Rev. David Fox, a retired police chief who served at Wilberforce University and is a member of the Dayton Unit NAACP.
“The key factor here for me is the police oath of office. When that person is being harmed, the police officer has taken an oath to protect and serve. From that point, it was already the policy that he or she has to intervene. They need to carry out the duties that they swore to before they even put the badge on,” he said.
The Ohio Fraternal Order Of Police have pushed for professionalism in law enforcement, Director of Governmental Affairs Michael Weinman said, and anything to further that mission will be embraced by the union.
Weinman said polling shows that many Ohioans approve of how law enforcement police in the state. He said the FOP is a “bottom-up” organization and local unions work with administrators on policy changes. He said Miami Valley law enforcement has been working to improve community relations for a long time — well before the George Floyd incident — and will continue to do so.
‘Carry out the duties’
Dayton police have taken several steps to increase community oversight since Floyd’s death and the protests that followed.
A five-point reform plan from Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley also includes increased officer training on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques.
Balling, also Sidney’s police chief in addition to his statewide role, said he favors changes in hiring practices and training — among other areas — and the association agrees with the “general points” outlined in a bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Phil Plummer, who worked in law enforcement for 30 years, including as Montgomery County sheriff.
Plummer’s bill calls for increased training of police officers, the creation of a police certification oversight board similar to nurses and doctors, for the Ohio Bureau of Investigation to investigate officer-involved shootings and standardizing hiring practices.
The goal is to get good officers the tools they need to do their job, Plummer said, and to remove bad ones from the profession.
“Reading the peaceful protests, I see the diversity in the crowds and I am listening in the crowds. The status quo is no longer good enough and we need changes,” Plummer said.
Weinman said the Ohio FOP has worked with Plummer on the bill and those discussions are ongoing.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office revised its action response policy since Floyd’s death. For years, deputies were trained to intervene if another employee was being excessive or using unreasonable force, the sheriff’s office said. The policy now says that training includes the duty to intervene if they see someone any law enforcement officer —including from another agency — using excessive force.
The survey also found the use of chokeholds and strangleholds, like the one used in Floyd’s death, are banned from the more than a dozen departments — unless the situation calls for lethal force. The Centerville and Huber Heights police departments revised their policies in June to spell out that the use of chokeholds and strangleholds are forbidden.
Oakwood Safety Director Alan Hill said no officer in his department has used a chokehold since 2008, when apprehendi
ng a burglary suspect after a foot pursuit.
Since 2016, Oakwood officers have used force 18 times while making more than 15,000 traffic stops and at least 1,000 arrests, Hill told his city council last week.
“If we have an officer who has nine uses of force in one year, they’re going to stand out,” he said.
Use of force numbers for 2020 are on pace to exceed those in recent years in Huber Heights, Trotwood and West Carrollton, the surveyed showed.
Huber Heights Police Chief Mark Lightner said race is not a factor in use of force instances within his department.
“In 2019, there were 44 incidences with white people and 23 incidences of black people because those 67 people conducted themselves in a way that caused a police response,” he said. “It had nothing to do with whether they were white or black.”
Patrick Oliver, a Cedarville University professor of criminal justice and former police chief in Fairborn and Cleveland, said police agencies have been banning chokeholds for a long time.
“Many law enforcement agencies in the United States have previously banned choke holds since the 1990s,” he said. “This is not a contemporary law enforcement policy. The George Floyd incident has highlighted to the nation the potential danger of this law enforcement practice of restricting the airway of an individual to gain compliance or take into custody.”
In Dayton, Whaley’s plan includes increasing officer training on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques; reviewing use of force reports to identify any bias; and improving transparency of the process for filing police misconduct reports. The city of Dayton created an email address, policecomplaints@DaytonOhio.gov, that allows residents to report police misconduct.
More than 100 people volunteered to join working groups to make police reforms in Dayton.
Black Lives Matter Dayton Founder Carlos Buford said he feels the discussions are necessary, and he’s hopeful changes will not only be implemented, but also practiced.
A reform Buford wants to see prioritized is having more officers live where they serve — regardless of the officer’s race.
Black Lives Matter Dayton has asked the city to only hire new officers who live in Dayton.
“We want officers to have a vested interest in the community that they serve,” he said. “It would be nice to see someone who looks like you from time to time, but the thing is we want officers to respect the community they serve and to me, black or white, there has to be some message put in place to make sure that happens.”
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said it has received demands for reforms and is always working to improve.
“We look forward to coming up with solutions that will satisfy the citizens we serve. Although we are always looking to improve the way we deliver police services, we must do so in a fiscally responsible manner while best serving the public interest,” the sheriff office said in its response to the survey.
The sheriff’s office recorded 922 total use of force incidents since the last three years, but the majority of those have taken place inside the jail. The office reported that there have been 326 use of force incidents in the community since 2018.
Centerville and Huber Heights have both clarified chokehold policies since Floyd’s death, officials said.
The Centerville changes also included its policy on duty to intervene and came “in response to numerous inquiries,” that department said.
“That tactic was never specifically identified in a policy therefore it was added,” after Floyd’s death, according to the CPD.
Huber Heights’ policies now “prohibits the use of neck chokeholds unless deadly force is justified,” a standard many other departments said they used.
Greene County law enforcement agencies also have discussed changes to the way it polices their community.
“Currently, a policy revision to include a statement specifically addressing choke or neck holds in accordance with our current tactics and training protocols is being drafted. Additionally, a policy statement reinforcing all officers have a duty to intervene and report any excessive use of force,” Beavercreek Deputy Chief Jeff Fiorita said.
Fairborn and Xenia police are discussing policy changes, too.
“While we have trained our officers to intervene when a fellow officer’s actions are not objectionably reasonable for years, we are in the process of updating our policing to more clearly state the duty to intervene,” said Xenia Police Chief Donald Person.
A hiring challenge
Hiring is one of the most important jobs for law enforcement agencies, Balling said, and a department’s racial makeup should reflect its residents.
“You have to get the best candidate that you can. And the best thing to do would be (to reflect) a makeup of your own community,” he said.
A state law enforcement organization is exploring how to improve on that, Balling said, but help is needed in recruiting.
“One of the biggest things that we need help with…..is getting people to the table to want to be an officer — getting different groups to want to apply to be an officer.
“And we have to start making those improvements while kids are in high school,” Balling added. “And that’s been one of our biggest issues with hiring females and minorities. Sometimes we do not have people that apply in those categories.”
The attitude toward law enforcement has worsened nationally since Floyd’s death, but Balling said local police chiefs across the state say their communities remain supportive.
“And that’s a great thing. Because our officers are taking a beating right now,” he said. “Because of incident or a few incidents across the United States officers are painted with a broad brush, which shouldn’t happen….They really want to do good in their community.”
When hiring, Hill said, “We are a committed equal opportunity employer and we do our best to attract candidates of all races and genders from all over the region,” he said.
Of Oakwood’s 29 full-time sworn officers, 27 are white men and two of white women, according to the department.
The city’s black population is less than 1 percent and its total non-white population is less than 7 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Many law enforcement agencies in the area point out that they are nationally accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies — a national organization — or the Ohio Collaborative, or both.
CALEA calls itself “the gold standard in public safety” and has certified at least 15 local law enforcement agencies in Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties.
The Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board was established in 2015 by then-Gov. John Kasich after a series of incidents in Ohio and around the nation led to calls for reform.
It sets state guidelines for the first time in Ohio’s history for use of force, including use of deadly force and agency employee recruitment and hiring.
Area departments receive training established by Ohio Peace Officers Training Commission.
Balling called the five-year-old collaborative “a great start,” but said it could do more.
“We would like to have further statewide accreditation….with more substance and more policies,” he said.
Balling said the OPOTC’s academy — which provides law enforcement with fresh recruits and ongoing training — is “going through a complete overhaul right now in looking at what they can do and how they can help support departments.”
Hiring new officers is not something Lightner of Huber Heights said his department does very often.
“We’ve had a lot of officers come here from other agencies in the area and they stay here,” Lightner said.
A key to moving forward, mending relations and rebuilding trust, Balling said, is “bringing up hard conversations and hard issues and having that good communication.”
With proposed changes, “I think they’re headed in the right direction,” he said.
Ohio peace officer requirements
To become a peace officer in Ohio, applicants must complete a Peace Officer Basic Training Academy that is approved by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission.
There are dozens in the state, including one each in Greene and Miami County and three in Montgomery County.
Applicants to academies must pass a criminal background check, physical fitness test and drug screening. To become eligible to be certified, applicants must past the physical fitness requirements, skill assessments and a written examination.
The curriculum requires a minimum of 737 hours of training, although local academies may mandate additional hours.