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Gov. Mike DeWine Calls For Chokehold Ban, Independent Probes Into Police Shootings

Gov. Mike DeWine inside the Governor's Residence in Columbus on Dec. 13, 2019.
John Minchillo
Associated Press
Gov. Mike DeWine inside the Governor's Residence in Columbus on Dec. 13, 2019.

Gov. Mike DeWine is asking the Ohio General Assembly to ban chokeholds, except in life-or-death situations, and to require independent investigations for all police shootings and deaths in police custody.

"Law enforcement agencies should not be investigating themselves," DeWine said.

DeWine and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced the changes Wednesday at a press conference at the Ohio Statehouse.

The governor laid out seven recommendations for reforming law enforcement, including psychological evaluations, yearly advanced training, and more body cameras. Several of the recommendations would need to be approved by the General Assembly.

One of DeWine's key proposals was to establish a Law Enforcement Oversight And Accountability Board, which could create professional standards and a code of conduct for law enforcement across the state. Similar to the Ohio Medical Board, the law enforcement board would have the ability to review and possibly revoke the ability for officers to work in Ohio.

Currently, the only way someone can be barred from serving as law enforcement in Ohio is if they're convicted of a felony. Although DeWine says officers can get fired for racism or for other misconduct, such discipline doesn't prohibit them from being an officer. Often, they can simply join another police department.

DeWine says he wants to stop that from happening.

"There’s no mechanism in Ohio to revoke a certificate for conduct that might be bad, but is not necessarily criminal," DeWine says. "Now is the time, I believe, to treat peace officer certificates like licenses, and in fact I think they should be licenses."

DeWine is also recommended advanced training on implicit bias, mental illness and de-escalation tactics.

In Ohio, advanced officer training is often left up to individual departments, which sometimes don't have the money to pay for it. As a result, some officers can go a while without getting this type of training.

"No matter where in Ohio a citizen lives, they deserve to be served by officers who receive a set number of advanced training hours each year," DeWine says.

DeWine says his administration is looking for a permanent funding source so all officers in the state get yearly advanced training. He wants the legislature to immediately begin hearings on the proposals.

The use of chokeholds by police has come under heightened criticism from activists following the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd, who died after an officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes. On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive ordercalling for police departments to ban chokeholds except when an officer feels their live is endangered. 

For his part, DeWine proposed restricting chokeholds unless "an officer is fighting for his or her life, or protecting the life of someone else." When pressed on what would constitute such a situation, DeWine responded,  "Don't get hung up on the exception, the rule is to not use chokeholds."

An NPR investigation found that bans on neck restraints in the nation's largest police departments were "largely ineffective and subject to lax enforcement." Even in cities where chokeholds are already banned, people have still been killed when police used neck restraints during their arrests – most notably Eric Garner in New York City.

The reforms and proposals follow weeks of protests across Ohio. Criticism of the police response to those demonstrations have set off calls for restrictions on police use of force, greater transparency and accountability, and independent investigations into alleged misconduct.

Some protesters have also called for the defunding or abolishment of police departments, which DeWine and other Ohio leaders say won't happen.

Earlier this month, DeWine said the state will ensure that hundreds of non-compliant law enforcement agencies meet statewide performance standards. DeWine said the state is also adding guidelines to that list for responding to mass protests.

In addition, under a bill introduced June 11 by House Republicans, Ohio would create a statewide disciplinary database for violent officers and require psychological testing for all new police officers.

In 2015, a task force commissioned by DeWine — then attorney general — recommended Ohio should dramatically increase the amount of basic and advanced training it requires for police officers and reduce the number of police academies. Some training was boosted but no major changes happened with academies.

The same year, an advisory board commissioned by then Republican Gov. John Kasich created a series of standards on deadly force, recruiting and hiring, and other measures that departments must follow to receive a state certification.

As of this month, more than 440 agencies employing more than 25,000 officers, or about eight of every 10 Ohio officers, have met the state standards, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Both DeWine and Kasich's task forces were created after a series of fatal police shootings in Ohio and nationally.

Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News

Paige Pfleger is a reporter for WOSU, Central Ohio's NPR station. Before joining the staff of WOSU, Paige worked in the newsrooms of NPR, Vox, Michigan Radio, WHYY and The Tennessean. She spent three years in Philadelphia covering health, science, and gender, and her work has appeared nationally in The Washington Post, Marketplace, Atlas Obscura and more.
Gabe Rosenberg
Andrew Welsh-Huggins