The race for Sheriff of Scioto County demands our attention. I believe we need change and a new, concerted effort to increase transparency and to improve community interaction. There are several steps that could be taken to accomplish these goals. I hope the sheriff, whoever it may be, will work on some important reforms. I believe strongly this is needed in Scioto County. Allow me to address the actions I believe should be taken.
The Scioto County Sheriffs Department should purchase and use body cameras.
Of course, privacy issues exist. A few legislators have argued that all footage from these cameras should be exempt from state opens records law. In addition, some enforcement officers are skeptical about the equipment, claiming that body cameras wouldn’t change their willingness to use force during an arrest.
Body cameras are not a quick and easy fix for all problems related to police transparency and accountability. However, a new study shows that equipping police with body cameras may be an effective way to improve the behavior of officers and the public with which they interact.
In the 12 months from March 2014 through February 2015, use-of-force incidents — also known as “response to resistance” incidents — dropped 53 percent among officers with the cameras. Civilian complaints against those officers also saw a 65 percent decline.
The study also showed significant reductions in the number of civilian injuries by officers wearing body cameras, and of injuries to the officers themselves.
Officers who didn’t wear body cameras in the study also used force fewer times over the year, though the drop-off was less substantial.
Dr. Wesley G. Jennings, principal investigator for the study and associate chair in USF’s Department of Criminology, said officers in Orlando were initially skeptical about the equipment, with some claiming that body cameras wouldn’t change their willingness to use force during an arrest. The statistics appear to tell a different story, even though only one in four officers in the study agreed that wearing the devices had any impact on their behavior in the field.
Many officers reported that the equipment changed citizen behavior and helped to de-escalate confrontations between civilians and police. They also said body cameras improved evidence collection, and helped them more accurately recollect events and fill out reports. According to Jennings, most officers didn’t feel burdened by the body cameras.
(Press Release. “University of South Florida Study Finds Police Body-Worn Cameras Reduce Citizen Complaints, Positively Influence Officer Behavior, Change Attitudes.” tampabaynewswire.com. October 13, 2015.)
In the throes of an opioid overdose epidemic, Scioto first responders – including the Sheriffs Department should carry and administer naloxone. The horrible death toll incurred by substance abuse would be much worse if not for naloxone.
The Ohio Department of Health states Naloxone (also known as Narcan®) is a medication that can reverse an overdose that is caused by an opioid drug. When administered during an overdose, Naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and restores breathing within two to eight minutes. Naloxone has been used safely by emergency medical professionals for more than 40 years and has only one function: to reverse the effects of opioids on the brain and respiratory system in order to prevent death. Naloxone has no potential for abuse.
In addition per the Ohio Revised Code Section 4729.51, a law enforcement agency is not subject to licensure as a terminal distributor of dangerous drugs for the sole purposeof possessing naloxone. Thisrecent change permits law enforcement agencies to purchase naloxone from wholesalers or other terminal distributors without a license by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy.
(Updated Ohio Code. “Law Enforcement Agencies Seeking to Obtain Naloxone Hydrochloride – Narcan® October 04, 2016.)
Other health officials in Ohio believe naloxone admistration is vital. AIDS Resource Center Ohio Chief Operating Officer Peggy Anderson, explains the role of the substance in saving lives of those who overdose: “If we lose them to an overdose then we have lost an opportunity to have a productive life in the future.”
In 2015 alone, Ohio EMS personnel administered naloxone 19,782 times.
The administration saves lives. Monroe, Michigan, police Chief Charles McCormick IV recently updated the Monroe City Council about the department’s use of the drug. McCormick said, “Since the program began in August, six individuals — four men and two women — have been resuscitated through naloxone by these officers. That is six lives saved in just two months.
“The purpose of this new program was to further increase our public safety services to reduce fatal overdoses by allowing public safety officers to carry and administer nasal naloxone to overdose victims,” the chief told the council. “As in so many aspects of public safety, a positive outcome is dependent upon strong teamwork. While an officer is administering the naloxone, another officer is providing rescue breathing.”
(Danielle Portteus. “Police save six lives since training to give naloxone.” The Monroe News. October 20, 2016.)
Mental Health Training
The Scioto County Sheriffs Department should be required to have special training to deal with the mentally impaired.
Enforcement officers deal with those suffering from mental health issues every day. Increasing their knowledge of the mental health care is so important to good policing. It is estimated that about 17.5 million Americans over the age of 18 (or 8 percent of the adult population) had a serious mental health disorder in the past year. Of these, about 4 million people also struggled with a co-occurring drug or alcohol dependency.
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist and the founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit group in Arlington, Virginia., that promotes access to mental health care, said police officers had by default become “the first line of contact” for severely troubled people who once might have gone to a community clinic or mental health crisis center.
Dr. Torrey pointed to San Diego, where calls to the sheriff’s office involving mentally ill people nearly doubled from 2009 to 2011, and to Medford, Oregon, where, he said, the police in 2011 reported “an alarming spike in the number of mentally ill people coming in contact with the police on an almost daily basis.”
In some places in the United States, crisis intervention team training is being is being implemented to help officers identify mental illness and determine the best course of action.
CIT also teaches methods that help de-escalate heated situations by encouraging officers to allow vulnerable individuals to vent their frustrations to reduce the risk of violence from both the police and offenders.
Major Sam Cochran of the Memphis police department, a retired officer and a coordinator of the CIT program, emphasizes that law enforcement should partner with local mental-health agencies:
“If communities give attention only to law enforcement, you will fail as a training program. You cannot separate the two.”
These training programs are a step toward preventing injustices for individuals. Providing officers with appropriate training not only improves the ability to handle job stress, but may also provide mentally ill offenders with a chance to receive treatment.
(Fernanda Santos and Erica Goode. “Police Confront Rising Number of Mentally Ill Suspects.” The New York Times. April 01, 2014.)
“I had to ask myself what values are essential to becoming an effective CIT officer. The single most important skill is the ability to communicate.
“There are those unfortunate officers who have not been given the training to communicate with the public in any situation – and would love to have it. There are also officers for whom it just comes natural to communicate easily with individuals. But, there are officers out there who not only do not know how to talk to people but, don’t want to learn how. Why? Some officers believe that hardnosed command-type vernacular is correct in all situations. After all, FBI studies have shown that an officer who lets his or her guard down and appears “weak” is more likely to get injured or killed.
“But, do you know that this course of action can easily backfire when trying to deal with someone in mental crisis? A mentally ill person needs the calm, caring voice of someone who understands the illness, the medications, the 'voices,' the support groups available, etc. The uniform can be very frightening to persons in mental crisis. Add to that scenario an officer commanding a person hearing voices to “stop and desist” and the outcome can turn out less than that desired by everyone present."
(Lt. Michael Woody. “The Dutiful Mind: Police Training in Dealing with the Mentally Ill” Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement – CABLE. 2016.)
Mental health training for enforcement officers is proactive. It represents a positive step in public service. It also offers a definite avenue of improving community and police relationships. It may even save an innocent life – the life of a victim of police violence or the life of a responding police person.
We, the public, will cast our ballots in a couple of weeks. It is a simple obligation with far-reaching consequences. We must improve our Sheriffs Office. I think that is something which most of us agree upon. It is my wish that the candidates respond to the voters about exactly how they intend to make needed changes and improvements. The opportunity to elect the best public servant exists. What will we and our sheriff do?