Ohio seeks to improve police relations, training

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A law enforcement panel will examine officer training in Ohio while a new task force will seek to improve police and community relations, state officials announced Friday in the wake of demonstrations around the country over racial justice and police use of force.

Both moves came a day after the U.S. Justice Department concluded that Cleveland police officers too often use excessive force and violate people’s civil rights.

Several recent killings of black men or boys by police officers across the nation and grand juries’ decisions not to indict some of the officers have angered many people, especially in minority communities, and prompted protests. Ohio’s officer-involved shootings include the death last month of a 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun in Cleveland and a 22-year-old man carrying an air riffle this summer in a suburban Dayton Wal-Mart store.

Gov. John Kasich said such incidents have highlighted the fractured relationships that exist between communities and police. A growing number of people feel that the system is not working for them, he said, and he sought to show that state leaders were listening.

“People in our communities must feel as though they are safe, they are not being targeted,” he said during a news conference at the Statehouse where he was joined by black lawmakers, Ohio’s attorney general and other officials.

Kasich announced that a task force would hold a series of meetings across the state to listen to residents’ concerns and develop strategies for change. Its members have not yet been named. Their work is expected to begin early next year.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said Friday he has called a special meeting of the state’s Peace Officer Training Commission to review officer training on use-of-force situations and community relations. The commission provides oversight of law enforcement training and helps set standards. He said he planned to address the members Dec. 11 and ask them to seek advice from experts on best practices.

Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, said he had no problem with the commission reviewing training policies.

“As long as they are taking input from everybody in how to improve the system, I think that’s a good thing,” McDonald said. He praised the formation of the task force and said the state’s largest police organization has offered to be a part of it.

Kasich said the task force concept grew from discussion with black lawmakers, including state Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland.

Turner, whose son is a police officer, said its purpose was not to place blame on law enforcement or minorities but to allow for honest conversation and meaningful action.

“No group of people should have the burden of skin,” she said. “And that is what is going on in this country – in this state and in this country. But we’ve got to deal with that collectively. … The police need the community, and the community need the police.”

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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