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‘Bias-free policing’ plan unveiled

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown Police Department has written a new policy “to emphasize the Youngstown Police Department’s commitment to fair and bias-free treatment of all people.”

The department already had “multiple rules” that prohibited biased policing, but the new policy takes that another step, said Lt. Brian Butler, the department’s head of internal affairs.

Butler said the effort is part of the certification process through the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board, which works in partnership with the Ohio Department of Public Safety to certify police departments in policing standards.

The Youngstown Police Department is among the 59 percent of departments in Mahoning County in some phase of certification.

The new policy and other police department issues will be discussed at this Thursday’s 3 p.m. virtual Youngstown City Council Safety Committee meeting, said its chairwoman Anita Davis.

She said of the new policy: “Only time will tell whether this is a serious effort. A piece of paper is a piece of paper. It’s what does the chief do in support of the piece of paper? What does he demand from his agency, from his officers?”

CHARACTERISTICS

The policy, which police chief Carl Davis has approved, identifies human characteristics officers can consider while carrying out their work — and what ones they cannot.

For example, the policy states that fair and bias-free treatment of citizens will be done regardless of race, ethnic background, national origin, immigration status, gender, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age, disability or political affiliation.

“This does not mean that all people … must be treated identically,” the policy states. “Reasonable concessions and accommodations may be, and sometimes should be made, for example when dealing with people with disabilities, injury, or illness.”

It adds that there are times when certain human characteristics can be used, such as when they are “part of a specific subject description, incident, investigation or criminal pattern.”

Butler said that part of the policy is in regard to descriptions of suspects, for example when a citizen is telling a 911 operator what a suspect looks like or when an officer is trying to locate someone using that description.

Employees can also use certain human characteristics when working on law enforcement activities “designed to strengthen the agency’s relationship with its diverse communities,” the policy states.

Butler said this refers to recruitment of people to work in the police department. The department reaches out in various ways to recruit people of various ethnic groups to maintain a diverse workplace.

The policy applies to all employees of the department, including officers, civilian employees such as clerks, volunteers, interns or others “engaged in agency-sponsored mentoring activities.”

EVERYONE’S ROLE

The policy requires YPD employees to “intervene if a biased policing incident occurs..”

“Agency personnel who witness or who are aware of instances of biased policing shall report the incident to a supervisor as soon as feasible,”it states.

The policy outlines supervisors’ roles, such as responding to violations of the policy with training, counseling, discipline, or other interventions. Collective bargaining agreements must be considered where applicable.

Supervisors must report violations to the police chief and include the corrective actions taken, if any. Supervisors must ensure that “those who report instances of biased policing are not subject to retaliation.”

The chief must be given a report at least annually on biased-policing complaints. Employees will be given training at least annually on fair and bias-free policing.

TRAFFIC STOPS

The department also will generate a report at least annually that provides data on the race and gender of the driver of vehicles in officer-initiated traffic stops.

That issue arose during conversations between the previous police chief, Robin Lees, and members of the council safety committee in July. At the request of the committee, Lees brought statistics regarding 348 traffic stops officers made in June and July. But Lees said he was unable to provide the race and sex of the drivers because the software the department was using did not allow for that to be tracked.

Anita Davis, a retired Youngstown police officer, was not happy with that answer.

“Without (more detail) how do you know whether an officer is indeed targeting someone based on race or gender or anything else if you are not looking at this? If you’re not tracking that, how will we know if there is a problem or not?” she asked.

Last week, Butler said the department has new software that allows officers to report the perceived race and gender of the driver of vehicles at traffic stops. The officer reports his or her perception of the person’s race, Butler said because asking the driver to indicate his or her race could create tension, Butler said.

In addition to reporting race and gender data to the chief, the department will report it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Butler said.

The new policy will be distributed to officers by month’s end. They will be trained on it this spring.

CITIZEN COMPLAINTS

Meanwhile, the department recently made its citizen complaint form available on the city’s web site under the police department section.

The form asks the resident to provide his or her name, address and telephone number, date and time of the incident, officer or officers involved, names, addresses and phone numbers of witness or witnesses, a statement of what happened and the complainant’s signature.

The completed form can be emailed to an address at the bottom of the form, mailed or dropped off. A person also can come to the police station to fill one out.

Reasons for providing the form online are to avoid the potential for a citizen to feel intimidated by coming to the police station and to reduce exposure to COVID-19, Butler said.

In the same area of the web site is a downloadable “compliment/appreciation form.”

BODY CAMERAS

Butler said the department continues to talk to body-camera vendors to decide what type of equipment to buy and visited the Akron Police Department, which recently acquired the technology, to learn about the “hiccups” it encountered.

Surveys have been sent to all of the department’s officers to get their opinion of the technology and to learn what features they would like the equipment to have, Butler said.

The department also will meet with Jalada Aslam and The Rev. Kenneth Simon of the Next Steps Coalition, which held town-hall meetings on policing last year, to get their input on the the cameras.

“We want to do this at step one, while we are meeting with vendors so we know what the officers are looking for and we know what the community is looking for, and we can tailor our questions to the vendors,” Butler said.

erunyan@tribtoday.com

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