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Friday, June 26, 2015

Will Portsmouth Police Follow "The New Reality" and Heal a Fractured Relationship With the People?

"Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware said the Kasich administration, by way of an Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations, has mandated additional training for police officers — and that training will most likely be paid for by what remains of local government funds which have been diminishing over the last several years and will, for all intents and purposes continue to diminish.

“'It’s probably a catch-22,' Ware said. 'I think we’re probably going to lose some local government funding and we’ll receive some of it back.'

"Ware said the additional training is the new reality in policing and it will continue to be required."

(Frank Lewis. "Ware: additional training mandatory." Portsmouth Daily Times. June 25, 2015)

I believe police in Ohio, and especially in Portsmouth, need additional, mandatory training. As public servants, policeman need special skills -- not only expertise in enforcing the law but also greater aptitude in communicating with people. I feel the police here have a poor relationship with the public that, in part, causes a negative reputation to thrive.

Honesty, transparency, and a caring attitude about equal justice are essential to good policing. Too many times the unwillingness of enforcement to respect the rights of common people have led these citizens to feel neglected in a system that favors power, control, and politics.

In December, 2014, Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich appointed 18 members to the Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations after a series of incidents in Ohio and around the nation that highlighted tensions between communities and police.

The charge of the Task Force was threefold:

1. To explore the cause of fractured relationships that exist between some law enforcement and
the communities they serve;

2. To examine strategies to strengthen trust between communities and law enforcement in order to resolve the underlying causes of friction;

3. To provide the Governor with a report including recommendations about best practices available to communities.

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach from the Northern District of Ohio said improvements can be made.
"In this nation we need to be able to acknowledge and thank officers, but when the facts dictate it, hold police officers accountable," Dettelbach says. Additional training, updated policies, new equipment, and better community policing procedures could help alleviate the department's issues, Dettelbach said.

David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said, "The single most important fact that I have learned in 30 years working in these neighborhoods is that those of us on the outside focus on the incidents, and people in those neighborhoods focus on the history."

Mistrust exists between residents and police in many neighborhoods, Kennedy said.

"This is not nearly as much about race as we think it is," he said. "This is about community and the police, and they're not getting along."

Kasich then asked the task force to issue a report by April 30, 2015, to provide ideas for how communities across the state can build constructive relationships between communities and police that are built on mutual understanding and respect.

Here are some of the findings of the task force:

* Citizens were adamant that action must be taken to ensure that agencies and officers be held accountable by the communities they serve. All actions -- administratively and criminally performed.

* Universally, it was felt that the police need to be more engaged with communities in which they work. Police must have relationships with communities that evoke trust. They must be proactive partners with the public.

* One suggestion was that police should live in the communities in which they work.

* There exists a need for law enforcement to have more positive interactions with youth at an early age so that these children begin to see police as someone they can trust.

* Citizens noted that the community must make more of an effort to engage with law enforcement, and that mechanisms need to be in place to engage in open, honest dialogue.

* The community perceives race to be an issue among some police officers. Racism is as underlying the fractured relationship between the community and police.

* Citizens perceive law enforcement to be procedurally unjust. Citizens spoke of being treated unfairly and disrespectfully by law enforcement, being subject to unspoken ‘rules’ to which
they must abide, and being denied a voice when interacting with police. Over time, these
factors generate citizens’ perceptions of a procedurally unjust justice system. As a result, law
enforcement officers are no longer viewed as legitimate authority figures.

* Citizens noted that transparency in agency policies and procedures is a critical step toward being viewed as being neutral and fair. In order for law enforcement to be viewed as just and fair.

* The timely, accurate, and ongoing release of information to the public on critical incidents is another very important step in being seen as transparent, and all law enforcement agencies should have a policy that emphasizes this.

* Some felt it is important to have specially trained officers to interact with persons who have mental illness and other disabling conditions, as agencies must be accountable to all members of their community. Roughly 10 percent of the calls for which officers are dispatched involves a mentally ill person in crisis, and agencies can be found ‘deliberately indifferent’ by not having the ability to effectively interact with this population.


(Senator Nina Turner Director John Born. Executive Summary: Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations. April 29, 2015)

(Evan MacDonald. "Five takeaways from task force forum on police and community relations." Cleveland Plain Dealer. January 20, 2015)

I think Police Chief Ware needs to commit fully to what he calls "the new reality in policing." Without a doubt, the public in Portsmouth is sorely aware that police need to be more engaged and to be held more accountable. Time and time again, I hear citizens complaining about a system that seemingly doles our measures of justice based upon a person's social standing, power, and influence. In fact, I know this from my own personal experience.

Transparency is also lacking in the Portsmouth Police Department. Without common access to needed reports and statistics, people are left to wonder why "policy" denies them disclosure. Is it any wonder that policing for the needs of the power structure continues to oppress a community in which the poor have few opportunities for success and advancement? There appears to be an agenda that lies beneath a blanket of purposeful design.

The basis of a strong community is its ability to recognize and support all social strata. People point fingers at the poor and struggling claiming they are nothing but "lazy welfare recipients" and "ignorant bums without initiative," and the authorities are no exception to contributing to that kind of ad hominem character attack. This prejudice helps assure a division between classes that contributes to political control because people without knowledge jump into the bandwagon and scapegoat the poor for all of the ills of the community.

Hope, direction, and a real chance for a positive future strengthens those in peril. But, you can't provide these things if you truly do not understand the population. Some here have never known the struggles of those living in the Projects, the Bottoms, or the Ville, and while willing to pay lip service to understanding the needs of those less fortunate, they offer tokens of help if they offer help at all. The folks in poverty don't need charity as much as they need equality.

A share in the real decisions of the direction of the town would give the poor immeasurable happiness and real stimulus for initiative. This can only happen when public servants recognize they must provide poor citizens with equal justice and equal standing as far as their basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's been a long time coming. I am hopeful for major improvement very soon.

"Ohio earned a 'D' in the recent State Integrity Investigation
looking at transparency, accountability and anti-corruption
mechanisms in place in all 50 states. The state fared poorly
in the area of effective access to information."

("How bright are Ohio's Sunshine Laws in Southwest Ohio?" WVXU - Cincinnati)

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