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

Three of the incidents involved people with a mental health condition and five incidents involved alcohol impairment, according to the database. All but two of the subjects involved in the incidents were men, and 10 of them were white. All of the police officers were men, with the exception of one, and all of the officers were white. One of the subjects was armed, or thought to be armed.

Five minor injuries were reported among the subjects, and one minor injury was reported by a Boardman police officer on a domestic disturbance call.

The types of resistance the departments reported the subjects used included failing to comply to verbal commands; non-violent, passive resistance; pulling away; deadweight; resisting being handcuffed; wrestling with the officer or another; punching, kicking the officer or another and attempting to flee from custody.

In addition to domestic disturbances, officers were responding to calls for suspicious activity and conducting traffic stops during most of the incidents.

The types of force officers used include balance displacement, the “other empty hand technique,” take down, a restraining hold and one use of an electronic control device, like a Taser, used in August in Austintown with a subject with mental health issues who punched or kicked the officer or another.

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

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 everyday, after all.

editorial@vindy.com

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