As part of an ongoing state-wide process to increase officer accountability and public confidence, the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board has issued a new guideline which will require all law enforcement agencies to track the race and gender of any driver stopped by police, whether they are issued a citation or a warning.
The advisory board was established by Gov. John Kasich in 2015 in response to a series of incidents in Ohio and across the state that "highlighted the challenges between the community and police."
Seven law enforcement agencies in Lucas County are currently in compliance with the standards set forth by the Board. The Ottawa Hills Police Department was the second agency in the county to earn the certification.
Ottawa Hills police chief John Wenzlick doesn't anticipate any problems complying with the new state guidelines, considering the OHPD has been collecting this data for more than 20 years.
In a policy implemented by then police chief Ron Jornd, the OHPD has required its officers to issue written warnings since the early 1990s. Officers must note the individual's race and gender on both warnings and citations.
For a predominately white suburb - 94 percent according to the 2000 census - Village officials at the time wanted to ensure the data they were gathering was reflective of the motorists driving through the Village. Starting in the late 1990s, the Village started conducting traffic counts in an effort to assess the race of motorists driving through Ottawa Hills.
Over the course of several weeks nearly each summer since 1999, the Village has hired someone to record the number of white and non-white drivers at various locations in the Village.
"They have a clicker in each hand and as cars drive by, they're doing a count, that way, we can get an accurate representation of who's using the roadway to get a better feel for making sure our numbers are consistent with that," Wenzlick said
According to data provided by the Village, the racial makeup of drivers stopped by the OHPD is fairly representative of the motorists who travel through the Village. The most recent count was conducted last year.
Over several weeks in the summer of 2016 workers spent 48 hours observing cars at key locations in Ottawa Hills for the traffic count. They counted 17,762 vehicles, noting 67.5 percent of the time the drivers appeared to be white. In 2016 the OHPD issued a combined 1,420 traffic citations and warnings. Of them, white motorists were on the receiving end 62.7 percent of the time.
"We've been doing it for a couple decades because we think it's important, whether it be traffic stops, the gender and race of the driver at the traffic stop, or whether it just be interactions with officers in the public, we like to make sure we're staying on top of the performance of our officers," Wenzlick said. "We want to make sure that we have a very professional department, so we put safeguards into place to make sure that we're complying with that."
"It was something [Chief Jornd] wanted to do to make sure that we were doing what we needed to do," says Wenzlick. "That was something he felt strongly in a long time ago. He was an innovator. So, we've been doing that here."
While getting certification from the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board is completely optional, Wenzlick believes it's a good thing to be certified.
The purpose of the "Bias Free Policing" standard issued by the board is to ensure "Law enforcement agencies must prohibit the use of any bias based profiling in its enforcement programs."
"They're trying to encourage departments to record that data so they can use it." Chief Wenzlick said. "It's good that other agencies are starting to do this and it's good that the state of Ohio is encouraging departments to do it."