Ohio sets aside $24 million for police training in wake of shootings

If Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams followed all policies, procedures and laws when he shot and killed John Crawford III a year ago, then the department’s standards need to change, said a member of Gov. John Kasich’s community-police collaborative board.

“I watched the video myself, and it just looks like a guy walking around Walmart on his phone,” said Central State University senior Austin B. Harris, 21, who has shopped in that store. “Now, we can use the Ohio community-police collaborative board to kind of bring a change to these senseless killings.”

Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine each reacted to the controversial police-involved fatal shootings of Crawford, 22, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park in 2015 by forming task forces to help find solutions to curb these types of police shootings.

“People are definitely ready to see a change in the way Ohio does its policing,” said Harris, a computer science major and the youngest member of the board which will work on seven task force recommendations that include setting a state standard for the use of force and deadly force. “I feel like there’s almost always another solution than using violence in most situations.”

State officials have appropriated $24.6 million in the next two fiscal years to implement recommendations about police training standards and community relations in an effort to mend what Kasich called a fractured relationship between law enforcement and some communities.

That includes $7.8 million in fiscal year 2016 (FY16) and $12.8 million in fiscal year 2017 (FY17) specifically for a “Law Enforcement Assistance Program” to provide more continuing professional training opportunities to Ohio’s peace officers. The budget also includes $2 million in each of the next two fiscal years for the governor’s efforts.

“I think the state legislature has recognized that there’s a problem,” DeWine said. “Our group and the governor’s group … both groups came back saying we need to do something different.”

DeWine’s task force recommended 40 hours of mandatory yearly training (up from 4 hours) but the compromise was 11 hours in FY16 and 20 hours in FY17.

“I hope that once we start down that track, then we can — after these two years — continue to increase the hours,” DeWine said.

Improvements to training are supposed to more scenario-based, how to deal with people with mental illnesses and how officers can understand their own implicit biases.

Most people applaud the task forces’ efforts, but some are skeptical that they will make much of a difference in interactions between police and minority populations.

“It’s good to assemble together a task force to be able to come away with some key elements, some different things that you can make some decisions off of,” said Derrick Foward, the president of the Dayton Unit of the NAACP. “But if you really don’t put any teeth in it, what does it matter?”

Tressa Sherrod, Crawford’s mother, said police officers shouldn’t get so much leeway and that they should be held accountable.

“The United States as a whole needs to stop holding these police officers like they’re almighty God and they can’t do anything wrong,” Sherrod said. “And they can. They’re humans just like us. They make mistakes. They have anger issues.”

Addressing training about implicit bias, DeWine said the first step is for officers to recognize its existence.

“As you’re seeing something unfold, you have to understand where your instincts are taking you and why they’re taking you there. And you have to make a correction for that,” DeWine said.

DeWine said scenario-based training — computer simulations with many variables that change depending on the officer’s actions — is “as close to the real world as we could make it.”

Police in West Chester in Butler County train on an in-house firearms simulator that gauges reaction time and allows instructors to provide invaluable feedback through video playback.

“You’re getting a perception where they’re recognizing things, scenarios and situations, threats, much more rapidly,” said West Chester police Capt. Brian Rebholz.

All training has a cost, but DeWine said departments will be reimbursed $20 per hour for the officers’ time, the courses are free and offered in many sites to shorten drive times.

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Daryl Wilson, a member of the AG’s task force, said the cost is worth the payoff.

“We can’t keep our head in the sand and say that because we have these hurdles, we can’t get across them,” Wilson said. ” I think it’s up to us to get across them if it is going to pay dividends for us all in the long run.”

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