Today, members of the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus announced a number of proposals
to address systemic racism and restore trust in law enforcement and criminal justice proceedings.
“We hear the demonstrators all over Ohio and we agree that we must act to address the serious problems of police misconduct and systemic racism in our communities,” said Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights). “Every Ohioan deserves to feel truly safe in their community, regardless of their zip code or the color of their skin.”
The proposals focus on professionalizing Ohio’s police, introducing standards for police conduct, reforming the criminal justice system and addressing systemic racism.
During a press call, Senators Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) and Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) called for standardized law enforcement licensure, pre-employment background checks, psychological assessments, a decertification process for violation of licensure standards as well as requiring continuing education for law enforcement officers in topics such as de-escalation and banning the use of tear gas, pepper spray and chokeholds, among others.
“Recent events in Ohio and around the country have brought attention to the relationship between police and the communities they are sworn to protect,” said Sen. Thomas.
“There needs to be a review of police policies, handling of citizen complaints and use of force. We need to create mechanisms for data collection on law enforcement activity and funding for officer continuing education and training in de-escalation techniques, mental health and special condition response, and cultural sensitivity.”
“We give police officers more power to interpose in our personal lives than any other professionals,” said Senator Sykes. “We are required to obey their instructions. They have the authority to detain us, to restrain us, and to use whatever level of force they deem necessary. Without adequate oversight and accountability their power is often abused. We believe that in order to improve policing, we need to professionalize police departments. It means introducing the same rigorous education and training standards that are required for other professions, such as medicine and law.”
Senator Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) also proposed mandating independent investigations by special prosecutors in all officer-related incidents involving the death of a civilian and establishing independent oversight of the grand jury process.
“Criminal justice and police reform are areas where I and many of my colleagues have been working for a long time,” said Sen. Williams. “Recent events show how critical it is that we pass legislation such as bias-free policing, grand jury reform and Senate Bill 16, which will proactively teach citizens and the police the proper ways to interact with one another. I’m honored to serve on the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Relations Advisory Board and I hope that this General Assembly is the one to enact into law the board’s recommendations from their 2015 report.”
Caucus members agree that in order to address these issues, the legislature has to first pass Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 and recognize that racism is a public health crisis.
“This is a clarion call for us to live out our creed,” said Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus). “It is imperative that our laws are just and equitable and our institutions respect the human dignity of every American. To bring about this critical change, to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, all people are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus issued the following statements:
Senator Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood): “The proposals discussed today by Senate Democrats are incredibly important in making Ohio a more equitable state. These commonsense criminal justice reform bills that I have introduced this General Assembly, include legislation to abolish the death penalty, ban the barbaric practice of shackling pregnant inmates, and the establishment of jail intake protocols for inmates who are at risk of deadly withdrawal from prescription drugs. These are bills that, if passed tomorrow, would have a direct impact on people of color, taking steps towards combating and interrupting the implicit bias and racism that exists in Ohio's criminal justice system.”
Senator Tina Maharath (D-Canal Winchester): “In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, a number of states have moved forward with reform, but Ohio is not yet one of them. As it stands today, there are zero explicit use-force-policies in the Ohio Revised Code. Likewise, Ohio currently lacks a statewide procedure to investigate citizen complaints of police brutality. And there is no requirement that an officer intercede when present and observing another officer use force that is clearly beyond what is necessary. We need real reform, and we need it now. This means introducing statewide use-of-force policies and standards, a reliable procedure for filing citizen complaints and making those complaints public records, and increasing officer training around bias, mental health and alternative, nonlethal methods of applying force that prevent an officer from escalating a situation.”