Do you know who polices the police? Check out this primer on local reform measures

. July 29, 2020.
Photo Credit: Christy Frank.
Photo Credit: Christy Frank.

Following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, police reform— particularly concerning relations between law enforcement and Black citizens— has consumed the national spotlight. Locally, the explosive conflict between civilian protesters and local law enforcement in downtown Toledo on May 30 resulted in a renewed call for changes in policing by city officials. Here’s a look at the ideas put forward— and what other changes might develop.

Civilian Police Review Board

When racially-motivated police violence hits the news, generally, the first call for reform is the establishment of a Civilian Police Review Board. Toledo established just such a board back in 1991. However, like many volunteer community boards established by City Council, the Board isn’t promoted well, meets rarely, and has, occasionally, gone dormant for years at a time. 

Civilian police review boards established in many major cities have varied powers and impact on local policing. Toledo’s CPRB model has a number of constraints, leaving both activists and board participants calling for reform.

Several members appointed by Mayor Hicks-Hudson in 2016 shared frustrations about the way the Board currently operates:

  • The CPRB, which doesn’t maintain its own presence on the web, is mentioned on the City’s website. Restraints on a digital presence can obscure the Board and deter complainants.
  • CPRB only holds meetings when a case comes forward for review, with little chance to promote the board in the community. For a complainant to address an issue before the Board, they must first navigate the police department’s Internal Affairs process and be told no wrongdoing took place. After finding “no wrongdoing,” a complainant has 14 days to file an appeal to be evaluated by the CPRB. 
  • The by-laws of the CPRB require that three of its 13 members be inactive law enforcement officers, guaranteeing a level of representation that some argue skews the perspective on the board. Other Board members include a citizen from each of the six council districts, an attorney, an individual with a background in Human Resources, a representative from the Hispanic community, and a representative from the NAACP. 
  • Without subpoena power (the ability to legally compel a person to come forward and answer questions) and no dedicated staff, the CPRB has minimal resources to gather additional evidence. These limitations can force reliance on information collected by the police department’s Internal Affairs investigation. 
  • Even if the CPRB concludes that an officer was in the wrong regarding a complaint, the Board does not have the power to make recommendations for discipline or suggest a course of action. They can only say that they found wrongdoing through that carries no legal weight.

Two ordinances recently introduced to Toledo City Council to address some of the issues raised above— a request for $100,000 in funding for the CPRB proposed by Councilman Melden and a request to grant subpoena power to the board proposed by Councilman Riley. Councilmember Komives questioned Council’s ability to make modifications to the CPRB without further input, leading him to call for establishing a task force to review the Board structure with the intent of improving its effectiveness.

Mayor Kapszukiewicz recently announced the formation of a Community Police Relations and Reform Committee, tasked with evaluating and proposing reform measures, including modifications to the CPRB. Comprised of 35 individuals including activists, community leaders, attorneys and police, the group will consider changes to the Board. 

Above Board

Given the wide scope of concerns about police power and the limits of the CPRB, several other reforms are currently being discussed, with some already passed by elected officials.

Councilman Sykes proposed and passed a ban on chokeholds and a requirement that officers intervene if they see other officers breaking the law. Sykes has also introduced a ban on no-knock warrants— which authorize police to enter homes without knocking and announce their purpose (except in the most extreme circumstances)— as well as a requirement that officers wear body cameras that are turned on during all engagements with members of the public. 

Additionally, Councilmember Komives has introduced and passed an ordinance requiring officers to provide their name to anyone who asks and carry business cards with their name and contact information, which they are required to provide to anyone upon request. 

Mayor Kapszukiewicz has introduced other reforms as well. He has declared his intention to relocate the police department’s Internal Affairs office from the Safety Building (police headquarters) to One Government Center by August 3. The relocation is a move long called for by reformers who feel that walking through police headquarters to file a complaint against police is intimidating and a barrier to people wanting to speak up. The Mayor has also announced the prohibition of officers wearing camouflage gear, something he feels looks “militaristic” and presents the appearance of police as an occupying force rather than as public servants.

Defunding the Police?

Awaiting Council’s actions and the Mayor’s Community Police Relations and Reform Committee findings, a conversation about defunding the police has continued to grow. The concept is more than merely cutting the police department budget. Defunding the police typically involves deliberately reducing the size, scope, powers, and weaponry of a police force while using the saved funds to start and support new departments dedicated to addressing non-violent civilian conflict.

Funding for the Toledo Police Department, in recent years, has fluctuated between $75-$87 million— almost 1/3 of the City’s budget. In 2019, staffing also easily outpaced any other municipally operated department, with 705 full-time employees— fully 40% of all City employees— with 621 of those employees being officers. 

Toledo politicians have long supported the police department’s growth— a challenge in recent years, as officers are often retiring faster than the time it takes recruits to be admitted to the force. Police Chief Kral, following calls by police chiefs before him, has pushed for the city to reach 700 officers— a number determined by the International Association of Chiefs of Police as ideal for a city the size of Toledo. Mayor Kapszukiewicz ran on a campaign promise to grow the police force by 15 officers each year of his term.

The Future of Policing

In Minneapolis, where George Floyd lost his life under the knee of an officer while three other officers watched, the City Council unanimously voted to place a measure before voters this fall, which, if approved, would completely abolish their existing police department. Meanwhile, in the US House of Representatives, Libertarian Justin Amash and Democrat Ayanna Pressley jointly introduced a bill to end “qualified immunity.” This legal doctrine insulates police officers from liability in excessive force cases. 

These examples at reform suggest that the national debate over law enforcement’s role in today’s society is likely just beginning. 

The Role of Mental Health 

Decades of defunding for mental health, addiction, and recovery services have left police as de facto responsible for handling 911 calls involving mental health emergencies. Without proper training, many officers can find themselves in situations that escalate quickly and result in safety risks for both officers and citizens. Studies have shown that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, making up 1 in 4 cases of officer-involved shootings.

In light of this, it would seem prudent to fund a new public department staffed by mental health professionals that could respond to 911 calls involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. In some situations, a law enforcement officer in plainclothes carrying a concealed weapon could accompany the agents if things get hairy, while still providing the right approach to maximize the likelihood of a situation de-escalating.

If Toledo politicians stopped supporting aggressive recruitment drives for new officers, the force would shrink by attrition, leaving funds to support such a new agency. However, the creation and integration of such a force into the public safety community would require careful planning by policy experts to be effective and should not be done haphazardly. 

Coupled with legislative reforms limiting the police’s scope and power, defunding the police could be a reality in Toledo— though it remains to be seen if the political interest exists. To date, no public officials have come out in support of defunding the police, and no community organization has forged a campaign for it.

Toledo Police Department officers disciplined for actions during May 30 protests

On July 22, the Toledo Police Department announced that Internal Affairs (IA) investigations revolving around officer actions from Toledo’s May 30 protests are complete. 

Officer Melvin Russell received a 75-day suspension and signed a Last Chance Agreement. Officer Jeffery Breeze received a 120-day suspension and signed a Last Chance Agreement. In addition, Officer Cristopher Guanilo received a Written Reprimand for the sustained complaint of Unnecessary Use of Force Techniques and he received a Counseling for the sustained complaint of Reporting Use of Force Techniques.

Chief Kral stated, “Police legitimacy cannot improve if departments fail at policing their own. I will ensure that officers are held accountable when their actions are found to violate department policies, and I will always support the hundreds of officers that positively represent Toledo Police.”