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Update: Inquiry into Police Policies and Practices

Dear Reader,

As we now enter the fall of a most troubling yet significant year, I thought it appropriate that I provide you with an update on efforts to review and, where needed, reform the policies and practices of our Worthington Police Department.  This update is provided by way of a letter, pasted directly below, that I emailed today to my fellow Council members and key staff.  And pasted directly below this letter are the two documents cited in the letter itself.  Please know that a more thorough report (providing context and rationale) will be forthcoming as Council discusses and acts—or not—on these consequential issues. I welcome feedback at davidwrobinsonblog@gmail.com

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Dear Council Colleagues,

Since the last Council meeting in July, Scott Myers, Beth Kowalczyk, and I have met several times (in person and virtually) to discuss issues surrounding law enforcement and racial justice.  Two of the meetings focused on use of force policies and practices, with Chief Ware and others providing information and perspective directly from the Worthington Police Department.  In addition to these group meetings, we have individually pursued our own lines of inquiry.  For instance, Council Member Kowalczyk has continued her independent effort to obtain answers to her list of fourteen questions (see pasted below, Beth Kowalczyk Questions 7/30/2020), among multiple other related efforts on her part.   Also, I believe Council Member Bucher has devoted time to researching the myriad of issues related to body cameras in anticipation of an upcoming Council discussion of the topic.

On my end, I have continued my inquiries into the three law enforcement subject areas that I have previously outlined, 1) use of force policy, 2) equipment and ordnance (as related to the issue of “militarization”), and our mutual aid agreement with the Columbus PD and neighboring jurisdictions (see pasted below, DR- questions and policy review re WPD, 7/11/20). I have pursued my inquiry by way of a) conversations/meetings, b) the referencing of relevant studies and articles, and c) by reviewing our current Use of Force Policy, mutual aid agreements, and relevant City Code.  More information gathering remains to be done.  In particular, two important areas of review—1) allowable pain compliance techniques (WPD Policy 300.3.3), and 2) an assessment of WPD equipment/ordnance and the protocol for their use—still await a direct and sufficient reply from the City/WPD.  Recent conversations with City Manager Greeson, where I believe I clarified for him the full intent of my questioning and probable outcomes, lead me to believe that information on these sensitive issues will be provided expeditiously post-Labor Day.

My expectation is that I, along with input (and perhaps pushback) from my colleagues, will be able to bring before Council and the public, before the end of September, the initial findings and policy proposals regarding these three topics.  I recognize that whatever is likely to be proposed, and perhaps passed, regarding law enforcement policy, is just an initial effort, and is best seen as complementary to multiple ongoing efforts by many within our city to realize our ideals of racial inclusivity and equity.  With that said, I do believe that these three law enforcement issues are of critical importance and are necessary for us to address with a sense of urgency.  My hope is that we will not only make specific substantive changes, but that through our review, discussions, and actions we will reassure the public that we understand the significance of these issues, and that our law enforcement policies and practices conform to our community’s values and interests.

David

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Beth Kowalczyk Questions 7/30/2020

1. How is the division of police budget set?  Are there benchmarks to compare to other similarly situated departments, particularly with regard to staffing?   

2.   Use of Force:

  • On the 2019 Use of Force report, one officer appears to have 5 incidents in a 6 month period.  When does particular use of force data rise to a level of concern?
  • Is there a race and gender breakdown for use of force incidents reported?
  • Do we have data/reports for previous years?
  • Are there trends identified “in the use of force by members, training needs recommendations, equipment needs recommendations, and policy revision needs recommendations” as indicated in section 300.9?
  • It was stated on the questions and answers page on the city website that chokeholds are not a permissible use of force technique in the Worthington Division of Police.   Can we include this in the use of force policy?

4.  Regarding the traffic citation and field interview race and gender data, is there anything comparable to this from previous years and is there some local, state or national benchmark regarding when the data would rise to a level of concern?

5.  Do we have data regarding 911 calls – both in terms of types of calls and results broken down by race and gender?

6.  How are situations (cases?) investigated or evaluated for racial bias (either explicit or implicit)?  Is there a review regarding disparate outcomes as well as individual intent and action?

7.  How would someone file a complaint against an officer or about an action?  Is there a formal process?

8.   What measures are taken to conduct ongoing evaluation of policies for implicit bias, or disparate outcomes by race and/or gender?

9.    Is this report available to the public (section 401.6)?

“…submit an annual report, including public concerns and complaints, to the Chief of Police. The annual report should not contain any identifying information about any specific complaint, citizen or officers. It should be reviewed by the Chief of Police to identify any changes in training or operations that should be made to improve service. Supervisors should review the annual report and discuss the results with those they are assigned to supervise. “

10.  Is this report available?

“401.6.1 PUBLISHING AN ANNUAL REPORT TO THE PUBLIC

The Chief of Police or the authorized designee shall prepare an annual report for the public that documents the annual administrative review of agency practices, data collected and citizens’ concerns.”

11.  Do officers receive training specific to interacting with youth?   Examples:  adolescent brain development, impact of trauma on the child brain, and why those topics are relevant to policing and  how to modify behavior to de-escalate situations with youth.

12.  Is there a specific policy regarding responding appropriately to youth in a way that promotes youth and public safety?

13.  Is there a current procedure for social worker and/or mental health referral or consultation?

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David Robinson, questions and policy review re WPD, 6/29/20; updated for blog post, 7/11/20, https://davidrobinsonblog.com/2020/07/are-our-police-policies-in-line-with-our-values-three-proposals-for-worthington-city-council/

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.

~

David Robinson

David Robinson lives in Worthington with his wife, Lorraine, and their three children who attend Otterbein University and Colonial Hills Elementary. David is President and co-owner of Marcy Adhesives, Inc., a local manufacturing company. David has served on Worthington City Council since January, 2018, and is deeply committed to 1) advancing resident-centered policies, 2) supporting responsible development that enhances our unique historic character, 3) endorsing environmentally sustainable practices for both residents and city operations, 4) promoting the safety and well-being of all residents, and 5) preserving the family-friendly nature of our neighborhoods.