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Police in Valley should use new tracking system

A new searchable state database providing information about officer-involved use-of-force incidents was unveiled recently, but so far its use has not caught fire.

Ohio’s law enforcement agencies are invited to voluntarily report the data from their departments, but they are not required. The whole concept sounds good, but without any mandates, there is little or no reason for departments to offer up the information. Many chiefs and law enforcement supervisors around the state probably are not eager to jump on board on what likely could become time-consuming extra paperwork, not to mention the possibility that sending it into an easily searchable database just might end up shedding a negative light on the department.

From our vantage point, though, we see opportunities for transparency in these publicly funded agencies, not to mention easy analysis and comparison among departments that can lead to raised bars and areas of improvement for everyone.

And let’s not forget that access to the database also just might provide the public with a good understanding of how well a particular agency stacks up against its peers when using force.

Operated by the Office of Criminal Justice Services, the new online database includes reports of shots fired at or in the direction of a person, the use of any other lethal weapon or object used as a lethal weapon, the use of a less than lethal weapon or other object used as a less than lethal weapon on a person and the use of any empty hand technique on a person.

The data can be filtered by law enforcement agency, county, initial contact circumstances, location type, subject resistance type, whether the subject was armed or believed to be armed with a weapon, any subject impairment, officer type, officer response / force type and also subject and officer race / ethnicity, gender and injury data.

The database can be found at www.ocjs.ohio.gov. Click on the “Ohio Use of Force Data” link, which is a part of the Ohio Incident-Based Reporting System.

More than 200 Ohio law enforcement agencies covering over 25 percent of the population have voluntarily reported over 5,500 use-of-force reports through the database since 2018. OCJS opened the database for public access this month to increase transparency.

Unfortunately, a search of the database by our reporter indicates only a handful of local police agencies are using it. In the Mahoning Valley, Bazetta, Weathersfield, Austintown, Poland, Boardman, Beaver and Springfield have reports listed in the database.

In Trumbull County, nine incidents have been reported for 2021, with seven in Weathersfield and two in Bazetta.

In Bazetta, officers were responding to a call about suspicious activity at a doctor’s office in August when a Taser-like device was used on a man who failed to comply with verbal commands, was thought to have a weapon or had a weapon and was not impaired. And, the township officers were in a parking lot for a traffic stop in September.

The subjects were white men, as were the officers, and none of the officers was injured. One of the men reported a minor injury.

Weathersfield officers were responding to domestic disturbances, reports of suspicious activity, a medical call / welfare assistance and conducting traffic stops. Five of the seven interactions were with white people, and all but one were men. All of the officers were white men, and none of them were injured.

The types of resistance the subjects used, as reported by the departments, included balance displacement, the “other empty hand technique,” take down, a restraining hold and one use of an electronic control device, like a Taser.

In Mahoning County, 15 incidents were reported, all in 2021. Nine were in Austintown, two were in Poland, two in Springfield, one in Boardman and one in Beaver.

The information is interesting and offers a good glimpse into the daily lives and operations of our area’s first responders. We encourage local departments to step up use of the system, especially now that it is open to the public.

All police agencies should be striving for more transparency every day, after all.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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