COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate passed a resolution Wednesday which calls for justice for victims of police violence while blocking attempts by local governments to defund the police.
Introduced by the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, the Senate voted unanimously with bipartisan support to adopt Senate Concurrent Resolution 16. A member of the committee, Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott of Senate District 14, believed the resolution showed the state supported multiple sides in what has become a divided issue across the country.
“I sympathize with victims of excessive use of force by law enforcement,” said Johnson, who represents Adams, Brown, Clermont, Scioto and parts of Lawrence counties. “Excessive force and brutality cannot be tolerated in our communities, and offenders will be held accountable.”
Instances of excessive police force, including the deaths of George Floyd and Elijah McClain, have prompted protests and conversations nationwide and locally about what proper policing should look like.
One notion that has gained increasing attention is the defunding of police, which proponents say would boost the abilities of the social programs and opponents depict as a gateway to further chaos. Belonging to the second camp, Johnson views Ohio’s law enforcement as professionals and guardians of its citizens. Attempts to alter that trust would be disastrous, he feels.
“Defunding our local police departments is a dangerous idea being pushed in various cities across America,” said Johnson. “Defunding law enforcement would leave departments understaffed and officers undertrained, increasing the risk of violent crimes in many of our communities already under stress.”
In Portsmouth, city auditor Trent Williams said more than $5 million is dedicated to general budget expenses for the Portsmouth Police Department this year, up from $4.8 million in 2019 and $4.6 million in 2018. The City also paid $2.6 million into the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund in 2019, going to 52 and 39 full-time employees in the Police and Fire Departments respectively, according to the Portsmouth Financial Year 2019 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
What Johnson described as “radical agenda,” his Democratic opponent and New Boston Village Council member, Ryan Ottney sees as an opportunity to mitigate violence.
“The movement to defund police isn’t about abolishing police or eliminating officers,” said Ottney. “It’s about redirecting some of those dollars into social programs, like mental health counselors that would respond to non-violent calls and could peacefully de-escalate a situation while freeing our overburden police officers to respond to real threats in our community.”
Already attempted by cities across the country, defunding the police has brought-on a mixed bag of results. The Washington Post reports that Camden, New Jersey, a city of 77,00, disbanded its police force in 2012 before instituting a new and larger department and experienced a 23% drop in violent crime and a 48% decrease in nonviolent crime from that point until 2018.
Yet, owing this reduction to a new police force was “highly questionable,” wrote Stephen Danley, a public policy professor at Rutgers University, in the article. This change was only made possible through local activism and took place during a time where crime across the state also faltered, he argues.
“Camden is not a story of how disbanding and creating a new force magically fixes policing,” he wrote. “It is a story of how community persistence can lead to meaningful change and how force-reduction policies can, in fact, reduce force.”
Still, arguments persist than an overreliance on law enforcement has deadly consequences, especially for African Americans. Between 2013 and 2019, Mapping Police Violence, a research network tracking police killings, reported 213 people were killed by Ohio Police officers.
Making up 12% of the state’s population, 82 or 38% of those killed by police were Black. African Americans were 4.6 times more likely to be killed by police than white people, which is tied for the 15th-highest rate in the U.S.
Accounting for the shooting death of a 13-year-old autistic boy in Utah earlier this month, Ottney saw the tragedy as an example of an improper response by law enforcement who should not have been the responding party.
“The boy was unarmed and was not dangerous, and police shot him seven times,” said Ottney. “What this child needed was a counselor, not an armed assault.”
While against the militarization of the police, Ottney clarified that he was not anti-police. Rather, his understanding that defunding means reallocation would actually assist more members of the community than the current model.
“Police put their lives in danger every time they walk out onto the street,” said Ottney. “Why shouldn’t we be looking for ways to help reduce their work and stress while at the same time improving outcomes?”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook through “Patrick Keck Portsmouth Daily Times”, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter
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