Tougher standards expected at Ohio’s police-training academies

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Ohio hopes to produce better-qualified police officers more sensitive to the diversity of the communities they serve.

And, veterans and rookies alike will receive more and improved training on the use of force – including when to shoot or not shoot – amid controversial instances of black suspects being fatally shot by white police officers.

Attorney General Mike DeWine announced this morning that police recruits must complete a minimum of 653 hours of basic training beginning next year, an increase from the 605 hours now required, before being certified as officers.

The Ohio Police Officer Training Commission also is expected to vote Jan. 14 to approve the first-ever uniform standards for applicants who seek admission to about 65 “open” police training academies around the state.

Pre-certification standards would consist of drug screenings, psychological exams, polygraph or voice-stress tests, physical fitness assessments and additional criminal “disqualifiers.”

While felony and gun-related convictions disqualify people from becoming police officers, other offenses, such as sex offense-related misdemeanors, will be included to bar entrance to academies, DeWine said.

Big-city departments such as Columbus operate their own academies and meet proposed standards, but some private schools are criticized for accepting tuition from would-be officers unlikely to meet physical fitness and other standards.

“Consistent standards … will help ensure better-qualified students and police officers for Ohio,” said Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, chairman of the state police training commission.

The open-enrollment police academies operated by small colleges and career centers object to requiring more training and enacting tougher admission standards due to fears of higher costs and fewer students, DeWine said.

The increased training for recruits will include more emphasis on use of force, community relations, dealing with the mentally ill and recognizing “implicit bias,” an acknowledgement of hidden biases and training to eliminate them.

Ohio also will increase ongoing training for the state’s 34,000 officers from four hours annually to 11 hours next year, followed by an increase to 20 hours in 2017. The $15 million to reimburse local agencies was earmarked from local-government funds. DeWine had sought 40 hours in annual training.

DeWine said the increased training will reduce the odds of fatal officer-involved shootings that have fractured trust between officers and the public in communities such as Cleveland.

Columbus Police Cmdr. Rhonda Grizzell said the city’s academy exceeds proposed minimums by requiring 1,050 hours of basic training over 26 weeks and 24 hours of annual training for officers.

The changes stem from a study group appointed by DeWine to examine police training reforms.

A separate panel appointed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich has draftedfirst-ever statewide policies for agencies on use of force and officer recruitment and hiring that must be met by early 2017.

An officer must fire his gun only to take down a suspect when he or she has “reasonable belief deadly force is necessary to protect life,” the Kasich group concluded.

rludlow@dispatch.com

@RandyLudlow

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