An Ohio advisory board created by Gov. John Kasich determined last week when police statewide are permitted to use force and deadly force. But Fulton County law enforcement officials say the rules aren’t much different than what are already on their books.
The state standards were adopted Friday by the dozen members of the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board established in the spring. They are the first standards designed for uniform use by all of the state’s 936 police departments and 88 sheriff’s departments, and must be implemented by March 2017.
According to the standards:
• Employees may use force only when reasonably necessary to reach lawful objectives, such as: completing a lawful arrest or facing resistance to a lawful arrest; protecting and defending themselves or others from being physically harmed; and preventing the escape of offenders.
• Deadly force is permitted only if an officer has a reasonable, objective belief it’s necessary. That includes: defending oneself against serious physical injury or death; defending another person under similar circumstances; and in accordance with United States and Ohio Supreme Court rulings, specifically Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor.
A third policy describes standards for hiring qualified employees and ensuring diversity among personnel.
The statewide standards were adopted in light of several well-publicized police shootings of citizens, both in Ohio and nationwide. The fatal shootings of Fairfield, Ohio, resident John Crawford III, who toted a weapon resembling a rifle while in an area Walmart, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who waved a pellet gun in a Cleveland park, were specifically cited.
The reason for adopting the standards was to put appropriate policies in place for all state law enforcement agencies, said Karhlton Moore, executive director of the state’s Office of Criminal Justice Services. Moore facilitated the governor’s advisory board.
“In terms of standards for agencies, there were no uniform state standards,” he said. “The entire purpose was to create a situation where all agencies are acting under the same standards. It’s to make sure everyone is on the same page.”
An important aspect of the standards is taking action against a law enforcement member who steps outside the standards, Moore said.
Fulton County’s standards for using force are close to those of the advisory board’s, Sheriff Roy Miller said. They allow deputies to use Mace, tasers, and deadly force when they’re considered reasonable and necessary in a situation involving an offender. Miller said in most cases deputies are taught to defend themselves from physical harm.
“I would hope that all these agencies have something in place now,” Miller said.
But given how such incidents occurring lately have been scrutinized by the media and condemned by the public, whether to use force on a perpetrator can be a tough decision, Miller said.
“When you look at all this stuff on the media, it’s easy play to Monday morning quarterback. And if you hesitate or make the wrong decision, it could be your life,” he said. “If you stop to think about (criminal charges or lawsuits), you’re going to have a lot more officers getting shot.”
The new standards mean more training for deputies. But Miller said every scenario on the street is different. He said it’s important to pursue other avenues of training, like teaching suspects why it’s better to not flee.
The Village of Swanton has eight pages of use-of-force policy in place, and updated it two or three years ago. Officers undergo firearms qualification about three times annually.
The village’s policies are more extensive than the state’s, “so we pretty much have it covered,” Police Chief Adam Berg said.
In his eight years with Swanton’s police force no member has had to use or attempt to use deadly force, he said.
Delta police have a policy similar to the state directive. It calls for officers to use force only when it’s objectively reasonable in the situation they’re facing.
In fact, the village’s law enforcement policies are provided by Lexipol, which recommends standards through federal and state guidelines, Chief Nathan Hartsock said. Wauseon and Archbold also use the provider.
“I would compare what we have with what the state is recommending. That’s one of the first things we give an officer…which they must sign off on,” he said.
If the village didn’t have its own law enforcement standards “I would make sure ours pretty much matched what the state was implementing,” Hartsock added. “For those agencies that do not have a policy in place, they definitely need guidelines here.”
The state advisory board has adopted the minimum standards for force and deadly force protocols, Wauseon Chief Keith Torbet said. Individual law enforcement entities can ramp theirs up beyond those standards.
Wauseon’s protocol is much more in depth and detail than the state’s, he said. Under Lexipol, use-of-force standards are updated every three to six months, and officers are trained multiple times annually.
“Our job is to protect human life at all costs. We try to keep our officers abreast of the latest laws and updates,” Torbet said.
Archbold Police Chief Joe Wyse said although the village has policies in place, the necessity of force against offenders is rare in the village. However, officers are trained to restrain those who resist arrest if attempts at peaceful methods fail.
“It may get somewhat physical, but I think our officers here are good at defusing it, talking people down,” he said.
With stricter standards than the state adopted already in place, the advisory board’s protocol isn’t necessary for the village, Wyse said.
“This is more for the police agency that didn’t have the used of force continuum. I think we’re ahead of the game,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.