Cops respond to use of force changes

By Jonathan Delozier -

<p style="text-align: right;">File photos Amherst police chief Joseph Kucirek, Oberlin Lt. Mike McCloskey, and Wellington chief Tim Barfield

File photos Amherst police chief Joseph Kucirek, Oberlin Lt. Mike McCloskey, and Wellington chief Tim Barfield

New guidelines for how police use force have been handed down by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, leaving local brass to make adjustments.

Executive order 2015-04K formed the Ohio Collaborative Community police advisory board in 2014 to “strengthen the fractured relationships that exist between law enforcement and some communities” and try to build trust with the public.

The body is asking police departments to certify their use of force and deadly force policy statements.

Police must be trained to only use the kind of force needed to effect a lawful arrest or overcome resistance to a lawful arrest, prevent the escape of an offender, or protect others from physical harm.

Deadly force can only be used in defense of an officer or bystander from serious injury or fatality.

It can also be applied in certain circumstances as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, such as cases involving pursuits or when physical coercion is deemed acceptable or excessive.

We reached out to Amherst, Oberlin, and Wellington police in our weekly newspapers’ coverage area to learn what the order means here.

“We have to meet these standards by the end of the year if we want their certification and that shouldn’t be a problem,” said Wellington police chief Tim Barfield. “A good idea from them is that we have to test all of our officers to make sure that they understand the use of force policy. What they ultimately want works but it has to be a little more flexible and fit for everyone.”

At a June 6 village council meeting, Barfield said some of the guidelines were changed to be applicable to small communities and not just larger cities.

“The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police has formed an alliance with this collaborative effort to bring a more common sense approach to it,” he said. “The collaborative effort wanted language in every policy throughout the state saying that force had to be ‘reasonably necessary.’ That is not the grand standard of the Supreme Court. It should say ‘objectively reasonable.’ That’s a huge difference when it comes to police work. They did get that changed.”

The difference goes to Graham v. Connor, a 1989 high court decision that said police force must be balanced with suspects’ rights based on the severity of the suspected offense and whether the suspect poses an immediate threat.

Chief Jeffrey Mitchell of Lebanon is the president of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, and says that the collaborative community effort is meant to fit any police department.

“The standards aren’t designed based on size or population,” he said. “They’re based on professional police practices and standards. So whether you’re a one-man agency or a thousand-man agency, you’re expected to follow them. It’s a voluntary process. If you want to participate, you have to follow the standard regardless of the size of your department.”

Oberlin police Lt. Mike McCloskey said some rules need fine-tuning to fit the smaller budgets that smaller communities work with.

“Sometimes when these mandates come down from the state, it’s a blanket mandate,” he said. “Some of those challenges that smaller cities and villages face aren’t taken into consideration. We’ve seen that with increased training requirements in smaller departments in Ohio. If a department has a smaller budget, it makes it very difficult to meet those kind of mandates. It’s not uncommon to see these sort of policies have to be tailored a bit for smaller communities.”

Mitchell said budget concerns regarding training hours are fair but are not directly affected by new Collaborative Community rules.

“Let’s not confuse the Ohio collaborative standards with the state mandated training standards through the Attorney General’s office,” he said. “That creates the more financially burdensome mandate because the amount of training that is mandated continues to increase and will continue to increase. That does put quite a strain on smaller agencies with smaller training budgets. Even an increase from 12 to 15 hours a year, it’s three more hours of training you have to pay for. Plus, someone has to fill in for the officer who is training and that creates another expense.”

Amherst police chief Joseph Kucirek agreed the Collaborate Community does not directly mandate new training hours, but the new regulations could create extra training time for departments.

“Most of what the collaborative board is putting out are policy and language changes,” he said. “It’s updating our policies in a certain way that allows accountability from top to bottom and back up to the top again. Our (Continued Professional Training) time increased from four hours to 11. That hurt our budget, obviously, but the collaborative review board is dealing with policy issues. It increases training in the sense of educating our departments about these policy changes. Whatever that process involves for each agency, I cannot speak for.”

“As soon as that stuff came out we took a look at our policy and procedures,” said Amherst police Lt. Dan Makruski. “I would say we’re substantially in compliance with everything they’re recommending. We’ve made some adjustments to make sure we’re even better than we were. Because we’re in a good position with our budget, a tweak here or a tweak there would not be a sky-is-falling situation. Because we’ve been a proactive department — not just out there making stops on the street but being proactive in our policy, administration, and training — we’re sitting pretty and doing a good job here with these new mandates.”

Mitchell added since the new guidelines are voluntary, each community will be able to make its own decision regarding implementation.

“Every agency makes the decision to comply among themselves,” he said. “It’s a decision that a community has to make. Each community is different and things that may be important one place may not be in another. There’s over 900 law enforcement agencies in Ohio. Each one has to make their decision independently of what others are doing.”

A report will be published by March 2017, listing which agencies have adopted and fully implemented the new state minimum standards.

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

File photos Amherst police chief Joseph Kucirek, Oberlin Lt. Mike McCloskey, and Wellington chief Tim Barfield

File photos Amherst police chief Joseph Kucirek, Oberlin Lt. Mike McCloskey, and Wellington chief Tim Barfield

By Jonathan Delozier