Are Our Police Policies in Line with Our Values? Three Proposals For Worthington City Council
Following the killing of George Floyd—and in light of the conduct of the Columbus Police Department at the very outset of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in downtown Columbus—I began questioning and exploring whether the policies governing our own police department were compatible with our community’s values. What follows below are my initial proposals, which I’ve sent to the other six members of City Council, calling for review and reform of three areas of police policy and practice. I believe these proposals are best understood as necessary, but not sufficient, components of broader efforts by the city to advance racial justice here in Worthington and beyond. They are a start. But an important start. It is, after all, law enforcement’s abuse of force that brought us to this time of protest and potential.
Beyond the moral urgency and practical need, I believe law enforcement is a proper place for us to first act because it is wholly within the powers of City Council to address these proposals expeditiously. I believe we ought to, and we will, continue to advance dialog and action between all interested parties, seeking to address a wide range of racial equity and social justice issues. However, structural and systemic problems are inherently complex, and the politics are difficult, and achieving concrete results may take time. In contrast, these proposed law enforcement reforms are relatively specific and clear, are highly relevant to the precipitating issue, and, I believe, likely to garner broad public support. So let us do both: pursue and promptly enact law enforcement reforms, while simultaneously engaging in a parallel process of dialog, exploration, and action across the full range of racial justice issues. By succeeding with the former, we may build momentum for the latter.
It is important to stress that these Worthington Police Department (WPD) reform proposals are made not as an indictment of the actual actions of individual WPD officers or the department as a whole, but rather in recognition of the pervasive nature of bias and racism throughout society. These proposals may be understood as pre-emptive actions, directed at systemic factors, not at the individual men and women of the WPD. The purpose here is to help further create, by way of clear policy, a law enforcement culture fully compatible with the community it serves, both today and in to the far future. I believe it is best when our policies are written in such a way that their just implementation, and resulting effect, is not overly dependent on the moral character and sound judgment of the individual person authorized to implement them. I believe these proposals move us in that direction.
In sum, I am urging City Council to act promptly on these proposals in order to produce meaningful, tangible results in this moment of opportunity. By doing so we will be advancing the values of Worthington—as manifested in law enforcement—here at home and as part of the broader public dialog now taking place.
1. Use-of-Force Policy and Practices
Proposal: Conduct a thorough review of the Worthington Police Department’s Use-of-Force policy (#300), and any other city documents related to the issue, and amend as needed so that the policy unambiguously expresses what Council and the citizens of Worthington deem to be appropriate. A critical review and amending of our current policy is needed not only because of the life-and-death importance of the issue, but because (as I recently learned) the WPD policy manual is not entirely homegrown, having been originally drafted and regularly updated by Lexipol (https://www.lexipol.com/), a “private company based in California that provides policy manuals, training bulletins, and consulting services to law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and other public safety departments (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexipol). The fact that our policy manual is based on uniform, boiler-plate language and “standard” practices employed by law enforcement across our country, makes it likely that our current police policies do not wholly reflect our local needs and values. Let’s make the policy our own.
Policy issues to be reviewed include: current allowable means of use-of-force; duty to intervene; duty to report (actions of colleagues); process of review and determination.
Relatedly, questions to be addressed include: how is the issue of use-of-force engaged in police training, both initial and ongoing? And, as part of a preliminary review, what is the recent history of use-of-force here in Worthington? How are use-of-force records maintained? What do they indicate?
2. Inventory of WPD Tactical Materiel
Proposal: Conduct a thorough inventory review of all “force-deployment” equipment and materiel under the ownership and/or control of the WPD, followed by disposal of all items, if any, deemed to be incompatible with the WPD’s stated philosophy of “Community Oriented Policing.” By “force-deployment” I mean all field equipment (from personal gear to large vehicles), as opposed to building or administrative. This would include, but not be limited to, all items related to firearms/munitions, crowd-control gear and substances (all chemical agents, including tear-gas, pepper spray, flash-bang and grenades of any variety, etc.), vehicles, and communications equipment. If any of the equipment has been obtained through the LESO/1033 program, identifying it as such would be of interest as well. Further, include in the review a listing of additional equipment and materiel that could, upon request, be made available, or shared in any manner, by other police jurisdictions to the WDP.
Further, what is the protocol for control by the WPD, when operating within the city of Worthington itself, of any personnel and equipment supplied by other jurisdictions (see #3 below)? For instance, who controlled the drone used during recent BLM protests, and who controls the data obtained? By conducting a review of current tactical materiel, we would be able to preemptively and explicitly limit, or wholly eliminate, the availability and use of certain equipment and materiel within the city of Worthington.
The issue of police equipment and materiel is closely related to use-of-force concerns, and is inseparable from the increasing militarization of local police agencies in our “war-on-drugs,” post-9/11 world. Worthington’s police department is committed to the practice of “community-oriented policing,” and this second proposal seeks to ensure compatibility between this mission and the means available to our officers for its implementation.
3. Mutual Aid Agreement
Proposal: Conduct a thorough review of our current “mutual aid agreement” with other police jurisdictions—particularly as it relates to the WPD’s participation in operations taking place in other jurisdictions where police conduct may be incompatible with our own standards and policies—and enact desired changes to the agreement. We were recently sent a copy of the 2013 agreement, drafted and circulated by Franklin County, but many questions remain unanswered and will require additional documents and discussions with city staff in order for us to develop a clear and comprehensive understanding. For now I’ve simply identified below my lines of inquiry.
Questions to be asked include: What is the legal, administrative, and financial nature of our mutual aid agreement(s) with other police jurisdictions? Current agreements exist with which police jurisdictions? What are the protocols, and operational command and control procedures? How often is this agreement generally exercised? What is/was the extent of our support for the recent CPD operations in downtown Columbus, related to the Black Lives Matter protests (how often, how many officers, and for what functions)? And where does the decision-making authority reside for entering and amending this agreement?
Following a comprehensive review of the current agreement(s), I believe it is likely that I will advocate establishing explicit protocol empowering City Council to convene a prompt, emergency review of, and potential rapid withdrawal from, ongoing operations in which the WPD is participating. It is my hope and expectation that this would never be necessary. And by establishing this protocol, and conveying its intentions and purpose to other police jurisdictions, I believe we make it less likely that we will ever have to do so. Finally, by identifying possible problems within our current mutual aid agreement, and acting to resolve them, we will not only advance meaningful reform here in Worthington, but we may also, by way of example, serve to support other community’s efforts at similar reforms.