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Police Training Programs Across Ohio At Risk Without New Funding

Wayne Baker
Protests over the police killing of John Crawford III at a Beavercreek Walmart store.

Crowds gathered Saturday for a rally outside the Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio. The gathering commemorated the third anniversary of the deadly police shooting of John Crawford III inside the store.

The shooting sparked outrage and protests across the state and beyond. Crawford’s death and that of others at the hands of police, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, also led to more training for Ohio police officers.

Increased training for the state’s approximately 36,000 police officers was recommended by a 16-member group law enforcement advisory group, commissioned by state Attorney General Mike DeWine in 2014.

“In the aftermath of a number of tragedies involving police officer-involved shootings, I put together a group to look at the whole issue of police training in the state of Ohio and to see what we could do to improve that police training,” DeWine says.

The advisory group was led by Dr. Reginald A. Wilkinson, former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and Chief Joseph Morbitzer of the Westerville Police Department.

A copy of the report is available on the Ohio Attorney General's website.

The group's findings included recommendations that Ohio increase admissions standards to require a high school GED or equivalent, passing a drug screening, passing a physical fitness test and a psychological evaluation. Ohio previously required police candidates to be at least 18 years old.

Officers now get about 700 hours of basic training. That's up from 605. They must also complete additional courses in topics such as community policing, constitutional use of force and crisis de-escalation, and in how to handle people with mental illness, PTSD and substance-abuse disorders. They are also required to complete instruction in combatting implicit bias.

Officers must also go through immersive training at a special $1.4 million facility in London, Ohio. The so-called Training Village uses firearm simulators and actors to replicate the kind of stressful environment DeWine says officers may encounter on the job.

“We're trying to make this training as real-life as possible so that when someone encounters a very high-risk situation, a situation involving a member of the public, that they do it not for the first time in the real world, but they do it in practice before they ever actually get into the real world,” DeWine says.

Some of the state’s new training protocols are based on a national Department of Justice program designed in part to promote police-community trust and good judgment.

DeWine says the increased training is already having an impact at police departments across the state. He’d like to see police officers go through even more training in the future. But that’s not likely, DeWine says.

“The improvements that we've seen in regard to continuing training, tragically they're going to drop off in January of 2018,” DeWine says.

Basic training programs will continue, says DeWine, who’s running as a Republican to replace John Kasich as governor. But unless state lawmakers act, funding for expanded police training runs out at the end of this year.

"There are many departments that will do that training anyway, which is great,” DeWine says. “But there are also a lot of small departments that simply do not have the money, that don't feel they have the ability to do this. And these are departments, frankly where many times it's very important that training actually take place. So, there will be departments in Ohio that will not be doing any continuing police training. And that's, I think, a very very alarming thing."

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding Americainitiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.