LIMA — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this week asked the Ohio’s Collaborative Community Police Advisory Board to develop minimum standards on law enforcement response to mass protests and other police policies in response to two weeks of nationwide protests and demands for police reforms.
Members of the collaborative will examine issues surrounding best practices for interaction between law enforcement and crowds that fail to disperse, under what circumstances tear gas, pepper spray and non-lethal projectiles are necessary and when these tactics should be considered excessive. Law enforcement agencies who voluntarily attain and implement those minimum standards are certified by the board.
Chief Kevin Martin said that while the Lima Police Department is not currently among the agencies to have obtained official certification, he is confident that policies, procedures and guidelines already in place at the LPD “meet or exceed those minimum standards” sought statewide. He said the department is in the process of submitting paperwork to the state board to obtain the state’s certification.
The death some two weeks ago in Minneapolis of George Floyd at the hands of police sparked a nationwide call for police reform. Floyd died after a policeman kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Protests followed in many communities across the nation — including Lima — demanding an end to excessive force by police.
Martin said the LPD has a “very lengthy policy that has already been approved by the collaborative” that bans the use of pressure to an individual’s neck. “We have specifically trained against that practice for years.”
The chief said the use of force by police officers is “a very complicated issue” in a fast-paced environment that often “calls for officers to made split-second decisions.” Martin said the use of one or more “tools” at officers’ disposal — Tasers, pepper spray, physical muscling techniques — may be engaged as the situation dictates.
“Our officers are given very specific guidelines in those situations. We do not allow the use of force that’s excessive of unreasonable,” Martin said.
The chief did concede that “unreasonable” is often in the eye of the beholder. “And the courts,” he said.
“By far, most of our officers do their jobs well. The legal interpretation of what is ‘reasonable’ force does keep changing, however. Police officers’ judgments are always judged after the fact, and A plus B does not always equal C,” Martin said.
“Our policies are reviewed annually. We are continually looking at what is the best industry practice for our department,” the chief added.
A popular rallying cry among those seeking police reforms is that police departments be “defunded.” Martin said he has personally received calls from persons who are concerned that police departments could simply disappear.
“I don’t believe most people think we need to totally defund police departments, but as long as (police) are not perfect, we do need to strive to get better. I think that’s what society is demanding right now.”
DeWine this week said that more than 400 agencies in the state have not chosen to pursue certification showing that they meet minimum standards regarding use of force policies.
“Regardless of why these agencies are not certified, I’m calling on them to begin working on this process,” the governor said.