Spate of police reform bills drop in Ohio legislature

Protesters at police headquarters in Columbus. Photo by Tyler Buchanan.

As protests continue around the state asking for changes to policing, several police reform bills will be waiting for the state legislature to return from its summer break.

Some legislators have argued that the House should come back in session to address health and economy issues, along with police issues and a racism bill that didn’t receive a hearing before the Ohio House left for the summer.

“Simply put, we, as legislators, still have an immense amount of work to do,” state Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, said. “Our constituents elected us to represent them, to rise to the occasion and to meet the challenges of the time.”

West is a cosponsor on three bills related to police reform introduced recently. 

House Bill 713, co-sponsored by state Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, seeks to prohibit arrest and citation quotas for law enforcement agencies.

West also joined with Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst on a bill to allow police chiefs to conduct training schools for prospective law enforcement officers and create an unclassified position called “cadets” within the departments.

The bill attempts to address a lack of diversity and retention within departments, according to the sponsors.

“We have an opportunity to close gaps and inequities, and make minor changes that will have major impacts,” Miller said in a joint statement on the bills. “We want to increase diversity within police departments and help make them more representative of the community they serve.”

House Bill 706, which West co-sponsored with state Rep. Erica Crawley, D-Columbus, would require implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and mental health training for peace officers, or “equitable human interaction practices,” according to the bill language.

Similarly, Rep. Terrence Upchurch introduced House Bill 710 with Rep. Sedrick Denson, D-Cincinnati, to prohibit biased policing and “other status-based profiling,” according to the bill. 

Crawley also introduced a bill at the beginning of July with state Rep. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson, regarding the state’s participation in a federal program that allows law enforcement agencies to obtain surplus military equipment from the Defense Logistics Agency. 

“Community trust is vital to the foundation of safe communities; however when militarized equipment is used, it is believed that law enforcement officers adopt a warrior mindset where the public is the enemy rather than the people they serve,” Crawley said of the bill. 

Bipartisan support is mixed for the bills. HB 706 has a single Republican supporter listed as a cosponsor, Rep. Adam Holmes, R-Nashport. Upchurch’s and Denson’s biased policing bill has no Republican support, nor does Miller’s and West’s bill on police training schools. 

With Republican control of both the Senate and the House, bills sponsored solely by Democrats have little chance of getting through.

On the Republican side, Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton; and Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, introduced a bill looking to study and implement “professional police practices in Ohio,” including modernizing hiring practice to hire minority officers, establish a standard disciplinary process and examine issues related to excessive use of force.

“Changes are needed, the status quo isn’t good enough,” said Plummer, a former Montgomery County sheriff, said in announcing the bill in June.

Other police-related bills pushed by Republicans have less to do with demands for reforms, and more to do with expanding police officer reach. 

The House passed the bipartisan-sponsored House Bill 421 in May, which provides civil and criminal liability for hospital police officers “acting directly in the discharge of the person’s duties as a police officer and that occurs on the premises of the hospital” or elsewhere related to the role of being a hospital police officer. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Rep. J. Todd Smith, R-Farmersville and Rep. Gil Blair, D-Weathersfield, has been referred to the Senate Local Government, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Blair is also a cosponsor on a bill with Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, to permit township police officers to enforce interstate traffic laws. It was passed through the House Criminal Justice Committee, and awaits a floor vote.

Sen. Bill Coley’s bill to allow schools to arm personnel without the training a peace officer receives has had one hearing in the Government Oversight and Reform Committee.