In the wake of protests over police shootings, Ohio lawmakers are ready to take another run at requiring more annual training and establishing a licensing board for the state's 34,000 officers.
State Reps. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, and Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, said Wednesday they plan to re-introduce a police reform package in the next few days.
The legislation will call for:
- a professional licensing and oversight board for officers.
- a statewide database of officer discipline.
- a statewide database of all use of force reports.
- a study committee to find a way to pay for additional mandated training.
"George Floyd's death laid bare some of our deepest divisions in our country," Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday. "My goal, our goal, all of our goals should be to work every single day to bring us together as a people, bring us together as a country."
Plummer, Abrams and DeWine were non-committal about whether the databases should be open for public review.
DeWine said the reform bill will increase accountability and treat policing as a profession.
"If this bill is passed, it'll put Ohio at the forefront. We will be able to say, 'Look, we have gotten serious about this.' We respect our police, a great majority of police do a wonderful job. We want to make sure that we have a uniformity in policing and we make it as professional as we can," the governor said.
Police reform bill also calls for independent investigations for officer-involved critical incidents
The bill would also call for independent investigations for all officer-involved critical incidents. On Tuesday, Columbus police shot and killed 15-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant during an altercation with other teens. DeWine said the death of a teenager is a tragedy and the death of a child is the worst thing that can happen to someone.
“We need to let the investigation play out," he said. “Gathering the facts is the most important thing there is.”
In tandem with the reform package, the state budget bill includes $10 million for grants to pay for body cameras and related computer storage of footage and $15 million to help defray the cost of currently mandated annual training, said Plummer, a former Montgomery County sheriff.
"I'm a fan of training. Training saves lives. Period," said Abrams, a former Cincinnati police officer.
"We need to move the needle on this profession. People are demanding change," Plummer said.
Details such as the training topics and whether the discipline database would be open for public inspection have yet to be worked out, Plummer and Abrams said.
The two lawmakers held more than a dozen meetings across the state in 2020, asking for input on what reforms are needed. Faith-based organization leaders and a local chapter president of the NAACP participated in those discussions, Plummer said.
Recent interested party meetings have been held with police chiefs and police union representatives, Plummer said.
While anyone was welcome to join discussions, representatives from civil rights groups such as the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, Ohio Conference of Units of the NAACP and Black Lives Matters have not participated, the two said.
Tom Roberts, a former lawmaker who is president of the NAACP units in Ohio, said the civil rights group supports the reform concepts and will testify on the bill.
"I think it is long overdue," said Roberts, noting that the one-year anniversary of Floyd's murder is May 25. "It's embarrassing that legislators haven't taken this step earlier."
Two Democrats in the Ohio House, Erica Crawley of Columbus and Thomas West of Canton, are sponsoring a separate bill that would mandate police officer training in de-escalation tactics, mental health issues, recognizing implicit bias and other topics.
"Based on the countless confrontations across our state which have needlessly turned violent, we know that officers need this training," West said. He added that he plans to introduce legislation that would limit qualified immunity for police officers in Ohio.
Qualified immunity protects government employees from lawsuits stemming from their on-the-job actions, unless they violated laws or constitutional rights.