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Police leader contests Ryan’s letter

Says reform can’t start by calling officers ‘racists,’ ‘thugs’

Click here to read Ohio FOP President Gary Wolske’s letter to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan.

Click here to read a letter written by Ryan and U.S. Rep. Hakeen Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Ohio’s Fraternal Order of Police leader takes issue with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan after the Mahoning Valley Democratic lawmaker pressed U.S. Attorney General William Barr last month to improve justice reforms following the sometimes violent response to police killings across the country.

In a June 30 letter to Ryan, D-Howland, and Rep. Hakeen Jeffries, D-N.Y., Ohio FOP President Gary Wolske offered statistics about police brutality and racism. The letter on Ohio FOP letterhead was posted on the social media site of the Warren Police Department.

“We acknowledge strongly that racism is real, and we must deal with it swiftly and aggressively,” Wolske wrote. “No legitimate law enforcement agency trains officers to use or even condones the use of racial profiling.”

Wolske, a lieutenant with the Garfield Heights Police Department, took exception to the lawmakers saying that black men are nearly three times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers, and that police brutality and violence is a leading cause of death among young men.

“First, police violence isn’t a leading cause of death for any demographic population,” Wolske wrote.

When reached Friday, Wolske said he has not yet received an answer from Ryan. The police union official said he had faxed his letter and also mailed it to the congressman’s office.

Ryan’s press spokesman Michael Zetts acknowledged the Valley congressman received Wolske’s letter, and Ryan plans to speak to him directly.

Wolske pointed to 991 police shooting deaths during 2018 with some 647,457 deaths due only to heart disease during the same time.

“Even when we look at young men, there are thousands of automobile-related deaths among young people each year as just one example,” he wrote.

Wolske also pointed to a recent Michigan State University study that found little evidence “for systematic anti-black disparity in fatal police deadly force decisions.”

Ryan and Jeffries, in their June 23 letter, pressed Barr to take steps to protect Americans from police brutality.

“No American should be made to feel unsafe by those who are appointed to protect and serve our communities,” the lawmakers wrote to Barr. “In the face of over-militarized and too often unaccountable law enforcement in this country, now is not a time to be rolling back protections for Americans; now is the time to strengthen them.

“There are good men and women in police departments across the nation, and there are brutal ones,” Ryan and Jeffries wrote, noting these incidents have undermined the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color throughout the country.

The lawmakers call for:

l Holding individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable for police brutality, racial profiling and violence;

l The Justice Department to reinstitute its authority to investigate individual instances of police brutality, racial profiling and police departments that repeatedly violate civil rights;

l Developing a real-life, scenario-based training curriculum that prioritizes improving community-police relations, de-escalation and crisis intervention and alternatives to use of deadly force.

In January 2012, the Justice Department completed its investigation of the Warren Police Department after years of charges of police brutality. In that agreement, the Warren police instituted:

l New use-of-force policies and protocols;

l Systems to ensure that uses of force are documented and evaluated;

l Systems to track citizen complaints and ensure they are investigated promptly;

l Officer training on conducting effective and constitutional policing.

In his letter, Wolske also cited a Wake Forest study that was funded by the National Institute of Justice that reviewed more than 1 million police calls over a two-year period that resulted in about an 11 percent criminal arrest rate. The study found that just one in 65,000 incidents resulted in moderate or severe injuries to a suspect.

“The study also reported that only one in 1,100 calls resulted in a use of force … and only one in 120 arrests required force,” Wolske wrote. “Simply put, police aren’t looking for opportunities to use a Taser gun or other physical force.”

Wolske called the lawmakers to an honest and reasonable discussion about the issue.

“It cannot start with an assertion that law enforcement officers are racist and violent thugs because that’s certainly not true,” Wolske wrote. “(The discussion) must be centered on facts.”

Wolske told Ryan that police and lawmakers have worked together in the past to improve Ohio, and “we’d like to continue to work together in the future.”

Ryan’s Republican opponent this fall, Christina Hagan, when asked for her comments on police issues, responded: “What happened to George Floyd was despicable and should have never occurred. But Tim Ryan, after voting to strip police of their qualified immunity, consistently vilifies all law enforcement, the majority of whom serve with integrity every day. We need to instead work together to find lasting solutions that will bring about peace, without attacking and degrading our dedicated men and women in uniform.”

In response to both the Ohio FOP and Hagan’s comments late Friday, Ryan said he has worked over the course of his career with the FOP to address the structural reform needed.

“I look forward to continuing that dialogue,” he said. “I’m especially proud to have authored a bill to improve police training — including de-escalation training — that is supported by both the FOP and the NAACP.”

He also reached out to Wolske and his FOP brothers, saying he has known many of them personally over the years.

“There is much we can accomplish when we seek common groud to improve law enforcement and keep our streets and our citizens safe,” Ryan said.

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