Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
Akron’s police auditor can’t deliver transparency without more help
Akron Beacon Journal
As the only city in Ohio with a police auditor, one might think Akron is on the cutting edge of providing citizens with accountability for its police department.
But if you listen to Police Auditor Phil Young’s recent descriptions of the roadblocks being erected by police brass, that’s far from the truth.
Young, who officially works only 30 hours per week in his one-man office, told City Council he’s not told about new public complaints of police misconduct, denied access to a system that tracks officer conduct and does not get to see police-worn body camera footage.
Those claims create significant concerns about the effectiveness of the position at a time when police conduct is under immense scrutiny nationally following the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. City Council is studying the auditor’s role as part of its comprehensive policing review set to conclude in December with recommendations.
It’s important to understand Young holds no special powers to obtain information or conduct official police investigations. By design, Young can only “audit” police work.
He’s essentially a citizen being paid by the city to serve as a liaison with the public to direct complaints to the appropriate police contact. Ideally, he’d also be raising concerns — if necessary — about any shortcomings in internal investigations and reporting his findings good or bad with the public.
We’re also perplexed about why Young can’t use the city’s IA Pro software installed three years ago. The program displays officer-level trends in use of force cases, shootings, complaints, commendations and more. Appropriate use of this software could allow Young, an experienced officer himself, to glean important information about how Akron police are performing.
Also troubling part of this situation is Young’s claims about his lack of access to public records, which should be lawfully accessible to him or any citizen, including completed internal reviews. Ohio law only shields investigator work product of active investigations from public disclosure.
We’re also increasingly concerned about the city’s position on releasing body camera footage. You may recall the department refused to release footage of a January officer-involved shooting even after it returned the officers to street duty by claiming it was a confidential record. When pressured by the Beacon Journal, police quickly called a news conference to release edited footage explaining what happened.
Detectives don’t produce body camera videos. To us, the videos are clear public records in all cases within some privacy limitations. Ohio law also specifies that police video showing a serious injury or death is a public record. Surely Young should have access to video that increases police accountability.
We understand every aspect of police oversight remains complex and fraught with legitimate concerns from citizens, city leaders, chiefs and police officers, not to mention their powerful unions. There are no simple answers.
But we have to ask why Mayor Dan Horrigan allows Akron police to make Young’s job more difficult than it needs to be. If a police auditor can’t access basic records, view body camera footage or function in a meaningful way, something needs to be done. Horrigan should be able to establish and enforce expectations for supporting the police auditor with timely and complete information.
We’re also looking forward to the report scheduled to be released Dec. 7 by Akron City Council’s Special Committee on Reimagining Public Safety, which currently has four subgroups studying a wide range of policing issues, including oversight.
One place council is looking to for ideas is the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which has studied the core principles of proper police oversight. The group sees a need for independent, proactive police oversight with some power to compel cooperation.
Akron residents deserve more transparency than what’s available today. They need a police auditor who could call out any shortcomings or credibly report strong performances. Both could help police improve the public’s confidence in police work.
Three times virus reaches daily record
The Marietta Times
Three times last week the number of COVID-19 cases in Ohio reached a new daily record. Three times.
There was also a record number of new hospitalizations for the virus last week.
Last Wednesday, another 66 Buckeye State residents died of the virus.
“To frivolize these lives as I hear some people doing, I just do not understand it,” said Gov. Mike DeWine. He was referring to a comment made earlier in the week in which someone mentioned the state had “ONLY lost eight people” that day.
Since March, well more than 5,000 people have died of the virus in this state. Some of them have died because, frankly, the people around them did not take seriously the scientific information we have been given day in and day out for months.
Instead, they chose to believe the virus is a hoax, or “like the flu.” If it is real at all — and not some shadowy political ploy — it isn’t a big deal, they claim. Clinging to that narrative, or having a flippant attitude about being young and strong (and not caring about the possibility of transmitting the virus to someone else), is flatly irresponsible. Families across Ohio are grieving right now because of it.
These are, by the way, some of the same folks who squawked loudest during restrictions designed to stem the spread of this killer. And while DeWine says, for now, he is not considering new restrictions, it is not an idea he is able to abandon.
COVID-19 is not going away. It is not going to spread more slowly because that is what is convenient for us and we’re tired of doing the right thing for the people around us. Yes, a vaccine is being developed. Yes, there is some hope we could have one beginning as early as January. Maybe.
But in the meantime, for goodness sake ladies and gentlemen, take this seriously. Wear your masks, avoid social gatherings, use hand sanitizer and/or wash your hands … use your heads. If not for you, then for the people around you. If not because you take the virus seriously, then because you take our state’s economic wellbeing seriously.
This is not a time to be selfish. Now is the time to be smart and safe. Do it for someone you love.
Tell them to ‘mask up’
The Sandusky Register
We’re echoing Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine today, pleading with Ohioans to wear masks. We’re echoing former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who joined DeWine, virtually, and a news conference asking each of us to be cautious and to protect ourselves and others by wearing a mask.
“I survived. I’m alive. It could very well have gone the other way. Don’t let your guard down,” Christie said. “I made a huge mistake taking that mask off.”
He’s a recent convert; DeWine’s been an advocate since the start of the pandemic, as soon as the science was clear that wearing masks prevents transmission of the COVID-19 virus. We stand with DeWine and the medical professionals, the doctors and public health care experts who tell us masking up will greatly reduce the spread of the virus, and bring this pandemic to an end, sooner.
We’ve seen too much irresponsible behavior by the very people this nation depends on to set the example, to be the model. We’ve seen too many reckless rallies, too many irresponsible gatherings in bars and other party places where people just refuse to wear mask, or forget to because of inebriation, or other excuses. It doesn’t cut it; there is no excuse for not wearing a mask in public, and when social distancing cannot be achieved.
But those venues, where irresponsible behavior is more likely, are not the only places where it happens, causing people wearing masks to cringe with disbelief and a feeling of powerlessness. In schools, at stores, markets, and other locales, too often too many are ignoring the established science, putting others at risk, people who are — quite literally — killing members of our families and our loved ones.
Once-and-for-all, COVID-19 is not just the flu, it can and might kill you if you are reckless and become infected. It might kill your parents or your grandparents, brothers or sisters, children or neighbors if you are asymptomatic and transmit the virus.
There are more than 220,000 dead Americans — 220,000 — and those no longer with us should not be disrespected by people letting their freak flags fly refusing to mask up in public. We must, each of us, no matter how reluctant, urge the mask-less to show that respect when we encounter them, and we will encounter them. We must learn how to communicate that message in an effective and consistent way.
We must all answer the call to fight racism in Licking County
The Newark Advocate
While many of us may never see it directly, racism is a real-life problem in Licking County.
Just a few examples from this year:
1. A Newark man was charged after posting racist graffiti in the Londondale area, including, “Black Lives Don’t Matter.”
2. A black woman was met with threats while challenging how a local school district handled discipline of a student.
3. Black students at Ohio State-Newark reported facing racial abuse when trying to dine out in town.
These stories are sadly not unique to Licking County, but it is our job as a community to make sure we are as welcoming to all people and cultures as possible.
That is why it was encouraging to see OSU-N Dean William MacDonald make a public call for people to stand up against racism. When such a high-profile official makes this topic a priority, it becomes a priority for the community.
We echo McDonald’s call and encourage everyone in Licking County to join the fight against racism in our community.
While we believe most residents agree with the general call to fight racism, many people may question what they can do to make a difference. The good news is that everyone can do something.
The first thing we must do is not ignore racist incidents when they occur. We believe problems must be highlighted and not hidden for them to be addressed. It is too easy for people to say that racism isn’t a problem when people facing racist actions don’t report them.
The good news is we have new organizations in Licking County to listen to those concerns and help mediate problems. This includes the newly re-formed Licking County NAACP chapter, which can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also the Community Alliance for Racial Justice, which is co-founded by one of our board members.
We need to report issues not necessarily to get people in trouble, but to increase awareness of the extent of the problem locally and to help educate people on the issue’s importance.
Secondly, we must all be anti-racism advocates. This can take a variety of forms, from calling out friends who share off-color jokes to fighting for policies that ensure fairness for people regardless of their background.
At the heart is finding empathy to understand that while a situation may not be offensive or troublesome to you personally, it may be offensive to someone with a completely different life experience. This isn’t about being politically correct, it’s about being kind and welcoming to all our neighbors.
It’s OK to not know how certain things may be perceived as racially insensitive, but we must be open to learning and growing as people. While truly open conversations on race can be difficult, if all parties go into it with an understanding that we are trying to be better, they can be rewarding.
We understand that some in our community may be upset with the attention being given to racism this year - some have said it’s not a problem locally. We wholeheartedly disagree and will rephrase a statement made by MacDonald in his open letter.
If one member of our community experiences any form of racism, then we have not done enough to promote racial justice and equity across Licking County.
Let’s all do enough together. That’s the only way the problem gets solved.
DeWine won’t shut Ohio’s economy if people follow safety measures
The Willoughby News-Herald
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vows he won’t shut down the state’s economy to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, but Ohioans must do their part to help reduce the number of cases.
If COVID-19 cases continue to rise, thoughts of another stay-at-home order have to weigh on his mind.
DeWine spoke to a group of reporters Oct. 19 who gathered in an airplane terminal at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland.
He told the media that the state doesn’t have to shut down the economy down.
The economy can continue, but people must follow safety protocols during this pandemic.
DeWine said it’s not that people have to dramatically change what they’re doing, but they have to change how they do things.
Ohioans have to set what their priorities are, he said, such as keeping jobs, expanding jobs and keeping youngsters in school.
If enough people wear masks, this can help reduce the spread of the virus.
DeWine said the spread of the coronavirus is not so much in workplaces or in classrooms, but it’s when people are doing more casual things including getting together with friends and family.
He believes it’s human nature in informal settings when people are letting their guard down that COVID-19 is spreading.
On Mondays, the governor speaks with county health departments and he’s learning they are saying pretty much the same thing.
In recent days, DeWine has been making stops across the state as Ohio has seen a spike of new cases in recent weeks.
In about two and a half weeks, the state has doubled the number of cases from 1,000 cases per day to 2,000.
At the same time, the positivity rate in Ohio almost doubled.
It was down to about 2.5 percent.
But now, it’s pushing on a daily average of close to five percent.
This trend can’t continue.
Ohioans must heed the advice of DeWine and the health and medical experts.
There are 38 counties at Level 3 red alert, which means that 74 percent of Ohioans are living in a red county
Northeast Ohio counties in that category are Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain.
There is very high exposure and spread in these counties and people should limit activities as much as possible, especially with in-person interactions with others.
Early on in this pandemic, DeWine ordered social distancing, and later for people to wear masks or face coverings and to practice methods such as frequent hand washing and using sanitizer to help stop the spread.
Once again, DeWine again is urging people to wear masks when close to other people.
When people wear masks or face coverings, they provide a great ability to cut down on the spread.
The next three months in Ohio are crucial.
The people will control what the next three months will look like.
But, it’s not going to be easy.
Fall is here, winter is nearing and people are not going to be outside as much.
One of the things that should cause people concern is that unlike the summer, when the cases mostly among young people rose, now the spread is impacting older people.
Another difference between now and summer is that hospitalizations are rising at a faster rate.
DeWine assumes that is occurring because it’s with older Ohioans.
He also urged people to cooperate with contact tracers.
DeWine credits health departments across the state and said they are doing a really good job, but they need help.
When a health department contacts people, DeWine wants them to help the officials to shut off this virus.
Unfortunately, sometimes health departments have seen some resistance from people contacted by the tracers.
There are parents who are concerned that their child is going to be out of school or their child is not going to be able to play sports.
As a parent and a grandparent, DeWine said he understands that.
But cooperation is very important and most people are conforming.
As of 2 p.m., Oct. 22, Ohio has 190,430 total COVID-19 cases and 5,161 total deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The state also has seen 17,682 total COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to state health department.
Of the total cases, the state presumes that 151,037 people have recovered.
The state health department defines presumed recovery as cases with a symptom onset date greater than 21 days who are not deceased.
DeWine says the state can still fight this, but Ohio must step up big time to the plate and help.
But if this trend continues with COVID-19 cases breaking records on a daily bases, something will have to give.
Remember, DeWine has the ability to shut down the economy just as he did in March.
If people would just follow safety measures to stop the spread of the virus, closing Ohio, again, likely won’t happen.