Ohio needs to set higher standards for people seeking to become police officers, substantially boost the minimum hours of basic training and mandate a ten-fold increase in on-going training hours for the state’s 34,000 officers must take each year, a task force formed by Attorney General Mike DeWine said on Thursday.
“I can’t guess the price tag for this. Some of the things could be implemented with very little cost, for example the qualifications,” DeWine said. “Most people would be shocked to know that Ohio is one of only three states in the union that you don’t have to have a high school degree to be a police officer. It doesn’t take much money to change that.”
The task force formed after the fatal police shootings of John Crawford III at the Beavercreek Walmart and 12-year-old Tamir Rice at a park in Cleveland last year.
Ohio law doesn’t require candidates seeking to be police officers to have a diploma, pass a drug test, take a psychological screening or meet a physical fitness standard. And police academies must offer a minimum of 605 hours of basic training and current officers must take just four hours of annual continuing education.
The task force is recommending changes to Ohio laws and regulations to mandate 40 hours a year in ongoing training and a substantial increase in basic training hours. It also is recommending that training be focused on dealing with juveniles and people with mental health issues, recognizing personal biases, police-community relations and simulated shoot/no-shoot and other scenarios.
DeWine and former state prisons director Reginald Wilkinson, who chaired the task force, said Ohio citizens and its police officers deserve the very best training and while it may be costly, there is a cost to not upgrading training, such as increased litigation and human tragedies.
“This is something that Ohio has to do. We have to improve. We have to do a better job,” DeWine said.
Police, union officials react
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said the department has to balance the need for more training against taking officers off the street to attend classes.
“So that’s clearly one of the challenges,” Biehl said.”The other part is the state, traditionally, has funded that training, has provided income or funds to support that training. And if that’s not part of the recommendation, that will create a challenge.”
Wilkinson suggested that police officers may share in the training costs, similar to how lawyers, nurses and other professionals who must meet continuing education requirements shoulder the expenses.
Mike Weinman of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police said training costs may be burdensome for officers in small departments where salaries are in the mid-30s. “I don’t know how anyone working for a village or small township could afford to do that,” he said.
The task force also recommended changing who trains police officers.
Larger departments, such as Dayton, Columbus and the Ohio Highway Patrol, run their own “closed” academies. They screen and select candidates, provide the training at no cost to the students, and hire those who graduate and pass the state exam.
Ohio also has 62 “open” academies run by community colleges and career centers. In open academies, students enroll, pay tuition, take the state test and then apply for jobs at police departments.
DeWine said at some of these open academies the pass rate on the state exam is just 30 percent.
The task force recommends that open academies be subject to greater oversight by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Commission, meet minimum performance standards, and have instructors who are regularly evaluated. The group also said reducing the number of academies to “a lower number that can be more reasonably managed.” DeWine did not offer specifics on how many open academies there should be in Ohio.
Last year, 2,408 candidates attended 52 basic training academies and 72.5 percent passed the state exam, according to the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy report. Almost 92 percent of Dayton Police Academy recruits and 85.5 percent of Sinclair Criminal Justice Training Academy students passed but only 63.2 percent of the Warren County Career Center students and 56.6 percent of the Clark State Basic Academy enrollees were able to pass the state exam.
Among the 33 task force recommendations:
* Before applicants begin training, require: high school diploma or GED, drug screening, psychological exam, polygraph, physical fitness test.
* For training academies: increase oversight by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, establish performance standards, substantially increase minimum training hours, reduce the number of open academies, add basic academies at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, evaluate instructors, require topics be taught in order and follow set lesson plans, mandate OPOTC oversight of physical skills testing.
* For training topics: add community-police relations and mental health material, incorporate scenario and stress-induced training hours, require students to go through “training villages” set up by OPOTA for hands-on scenario exercises.
* For annual training: require 40 hours a year of on-going training for all sworn officers, topics should include legal updates, community-police relations, mental health, refresher skills, and use of force.
* Other: all law enforcement agencies should adopt use of force policies, create specialized response programs for crisis intervention or mental health response, implement special training for dispatchers to properly relay information to officers and use evidence-based police strategies to better deploy resources.
Staff writer Mark Gokavi contributed to this report.
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