Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Columbus Dispatch. Dec. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Is 911 becoming a joke in Columbus? Slower police response time alarming

The iconic hip hop group Public Enemy put the issue of bad emergency response services in the national spotlight with its 1990 hit song “911 Is a Joke” from the album Fear of a Black Planet.

Analysis of Columbus police data by Dispatch reporter Bethany Bruner shows why the song likely rings true for some awaiting police response in Columbus.

Police response is not a joke here, but there is much reason for alarm.

As it reshapes a police division to serve this growing and diverse community, Columbus police must take quick, corrective action to ensure officers arrive to calls swiftly.

Every minute matters

Bruner’s reporting shows that average Columbus police response times for all calls has increased by nearly three minutes in the last two years.

The average time through Sept. 30 of this year was 26 minutes and 28 seconds. In 2019, the average response time for all calls was 23 minutes and 36 seconds.

If seconds can feel like hours when police have been called, three minutes must feel like a lifetime.

Not all calls are the same

Even more concerning than the average for all calls, Bruner found that the citywide average response times for priority-one calls — life-threatening situations like shootings — was 8 minutes and 15 seconds through Sept. 30.

That’s more than 2 minutes slower than in 2019 when the citywide average for priority-one calls was 6 minutes and 3 seconds.

Sgt. Joseph Albert, a public information officer for the division, told Bruner that average times are not all together accurate representations of how quickly officers arrive at calls.

Officers in high-pressure situations might not immediately push a button on their in-cruiser computers to indicate when they have arrived at the scene of the call, he said.

We are not completely discounting Albert’s assertion, but there are holes in it.

Columbus police have used the same system for arrival times for years. It seems unlikely that the effect of officers not pushing their cruiser buttons would suddenly change.

Add that to the fact that most police calls are not life-threatening, priority-one calls.

Columbus police respond more often to priority-two calls, such as those involving domestic incidents and other suspected felonies that just occurred.

Those calls are no walk in the park, for sure, but they are likely to be less harrowing than a priority-one call.

The data provided to Bruner included 111,443 priority-two calls reported to Columbus police in 2019, with an average response time of 15 minutes and 9 seconds.

There were 84,278 priority-two calls in the first nine months of 2021 with a 20-minute average response time.

Like many departments across the nation, the Columbus Police Division faces staffing shortages.

That shortage and other challenges the division faces also are factors in response times.

More police needed

Police Chief Elaine Bryant has been evaluating the department and possible changes for the department, which is said to be down 100 officers.

As part of the city’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, as many as 100 members of the department’s officers at commander level or below who have 25 or more years of experience will take a one-time buyout of $200,000 each.

City officials recently announced plans to hold three police recruit classes in 2022 with the hopes of adding 170 new officers.

The shortage in patrol comes as the city finds itself in the final month of its deadliest year in history. The 176th homicide occurred on Monday, Nov. 22, breaking the 2020 record of 175.

Residents should be patient while the city works through issues within the division, but patience lasts only so long and is in short supply when life and well-being are on the line.

And life and well-being are often on the line.

As part of her reporting, Bruner analyzed police calls in each of the city’s 20 patrol precincts.

The most priority-one calls were made in precinct 19, an area on the city’s West Side that includes the Hilltop.

Response times for priority calls leaped 77% from 4 minutes and 25 seconds in 2019 to almost 8 minutes — 7 minutes and 50 seconds — in the period studied in 2021.

There were 395 priority-one calls in the precinct through Sept. 30.

It is unacceptable that police response times have increased so significantly.

The root causes, which include staffing, must be addressed quickly.

It would not be fair to call 911 a joke in this town, but Columbus residents are too often left waiting for the prompt services they deserve.

That’s far from funny.

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Toledo Blade. Dec. 4, 2021.

Editorial: Toledo-Columbus connection is right path

A true commuter train between Toledo and Columbus would mean a boon for business and for both cities. Toledo City Council should approve a study of the possibility of a route between the two cities.

A train between the two cities would also fit into Amtrak’s plan for expansion of service thanks to infrastructure funding. There is some question though, whether Amtrak plans on a Toledo to Columbus route. They are planning a Cleveland–Columbus–Cincinnati route.

A Toledo to Detroit route has been discussed, but Toledo would benefit most from direct connections to Ohio’s other major cities. The council plan would extend a study of the Toledo to Detroit route. A Toledo to Detroit route simply drains Toledo further, much like the absurd decisions that have hurt the Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport.

We must think of Ohio, not Michigan and not Detroit.

Amtrak now runs three times a week between Toledo and Cleveland. That used to be a daily route via the Capitol Limited — a daily trip still not restored after reductions in 2020.

A rail route between Toledo and Columbus would also promote safety. As councilman Theresa Morris rightly points out, the roads between the two cities aren’t the best.

Any route considered should be high speed rail — that’s the standard in Europe and Japan between major cities and is becoming the norm in China. High speed is essential for modern commuter connections. That’s part of the difficulty for Amtrak in its current form — it is simply too slow.

A reasonable comparison can be made to the Maryland MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) routes which connect Western Maryland, and West Virginia commuters to jobs in Baltimore and Washington.

Expanding the reach for commutes by folks living in Toledo means more people can live and work here even if their jobs are in Columbus.

This opportunity for growth and development cannot pass by Toledo.

Council should approve the study and Amtrak, and the state and federal governments should get on board.

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Youngstown Vindicator. Dec. 5, 2021.

Editorial: We urge officers to welcome use of body camera

We received the good news last week that both the Youngstown Police Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol are finalizing plans in the purchase of officer body cameras.

We are pleased to see these new programs intended to help enhance transparency in law enforcement take shape.

City police will use about $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan funds to purchase 100 cameras and 150 Taser weapons. The federal relief funding also will cover the cost of video storage and their needed computer network equipment.

Youngstown’s five-year contract is with Axon, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company and includes 100 new body cameras in both the third and fifth years of the contract with the city retaining the old cameras.

City officials have talked for several months about buying body cameras for its police officers, and it all came to fruition with Wednesday’s vote of city council.

In an unrelated move, the Ohio State Highway Patrol will pay $15 million over five years from its budget to arm all 1,500 troopers statewide with body cameras by next May. The new cameras also should strengthen police-community relations as many in communities large and small have appealed for body camera use for years now. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has supported the measure.

The $15 million also will fund distribution and installation of 1,221 in-car systems that will synchronize the new cameras with existing dashboard and rear-seat cameras in use by Ohio troopers for 20 years.

It seems that our elected officials, administrators and law enforcement leadership have welcomed the idea of body camera usage. Now, we can only hope that local police and highway patrol officers also welcome and embrace use of the cameras, treating them not with disdain or fear, but with eagerness to create more transparency for the public.

Frankly, it’s no secret that we are in an era where virtually anything can be caught on camera at any time. For that reason (and many others), we believe body camera usage is even increasingly more critical.

Videos captured in police-involved shootings or when use of force and aggression is displayed against officers have played pivotal roles in criminal and administrative investigations, as well as training scenarios. They should be welcomed as an effective tool to expose areas of concern in police work.

In announcing Ohio’s plan last week, DeWine described the cameras as “like an impartial, first-person account of every interaction with the public, every arrest and every traffic stop.”

We agree.

Body and cruiser cameras allow police agencies the ability to record their own unalterable evidence of often tumultuous scenarios as they unfold. Yes, potential exists to be overly scrutinized, but the recordings also provide a response if and when an officer has done his or her job correctly.

Indeed, that really is all anyone should demand and expect from the use of these cameras.

Under Youngstown’s relatively new police chief, investigation and planning for the camera program has moved along swiftly over the last 11 months.

Policies for recording, storage and public release have been spelled out. From where we sit, those types of policies always should be simple. Video footage gathered via police body or cruiser cameras should be guided by existing Ohio law. It should be considered as open and transparent as the letter of the law allows. We always would discourage police departments from developing overly restrictive policies for access to the recordings, and remind them that no local policy would trump the Ohio Revised Code.

In making the announcement regarding the state trooper body camera program, Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Richard Fambro said transparency is nothing new to his agency.

“The protection of our constitutional and civil rights of people we serve is of paramount concern to the division,” he said.

Bravo! We are excited to see these police agencies embrace the use of body cameras as a tool to improve performance of their duties and increase transparency to the public that they serve.

Now we are hopeful that more departments that, so far, have not adopted use of the cameras will move forward with a plan.

As of April, seven states — Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Carolina — mandated body cameras for all law enforcement officers statewide, The Associated Press reports.

Achieving a similar goal for Ohio and all the police agencies within it would serve our officers and our public well.

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Marietta Times. Dec. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t be lulled by bystander fatigue

FBI investigators introduced a term few may have heard in describing how Connor Betts managed to reach the point of killing nine people in Dayton before being killed by police: bystander fatigue.

A man who had fantasized for years about mass shootings, serial killings, sexual assault and murder-suicide had left his friends and family so used to his behavior that they may not have seen the worst coming. Bystander fatigue is “the passivity, inaction, or inattention to concerning behaviors observed by individuals who have a close, interpersonal relationship to a person of concern due to their prolonged exposure to the person’s erratic or otherwise troubling behavior over time.”

After the shooting, those who attended high school with Betts said he had been suspended years ago for compiling a “hit list” of classmates, and may also have been suspended for coming to school with a list of female classmates he wanted to sexually assault. He asked a friend to purchase for him body armor and a 100-round magazine. He had a “history of obsession with violent ideations with mass shootings and expressed a desire to commit a mass shooting,” and had looked into violent ideologies.

By the time he acted on those inclinations, at age 24, those closest to him had been dealing with his “troubling behavior” likely for more than a decade. They were used to it.

That is why the FBI says it is so important to stay tuned in to people like Betts, and to pay attention to even subtle changes in their behavior. When we think of “if you see something, say something,” we tend to think of a monster we’ve never encountered before, rather than the monster we’ve gotten used to living with for years.

Don’t be lulled into ignoring what might seem like the tiniest of red flags. Raising the alarm could save lives.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer. Dec. 5, 2021.

Editorial: 80 years later, the Pearl Harbor attack that galvanized us into war reminds us of what we’ve lost

Eighty years ago this Tuesday, our parents and grandparents were shaken out of the humdrum of daily living -- and the trajectory of their lives forever changed -- by news that Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, home to America’s Pacific Fleet and considered a forward deterrent to Japanese attack, had itself come under murderous fire in a surprise Japanese assault. Other U.S. military installations on the island of Oahu and nearby were also hit the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, at about 8 a.m. Hawaii time -- 1 p.m. at the White House, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt was just finishing his lunch.

All told, 2,403 service members and civilians died that day, according to President Joe Biden’s Friday “Proclamation on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, 2021.”

That death toll included 1,177 crew members on the USS Arizona who lost their lives when the venerable battleship was sunk while at harbor. It’s now a permanent memorial to all who lost their lives on that fateful “date which will live in infamy.” Aboard the Arizona that day were 38 sets of brothers, reports The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, citing historian Walter R. Borneman -- three-quarters of whom died.

“To this day,” said Biden Friday in his remembrance proclamation, recalling his own visit to the USS Arizona memorial a decade ago, “beads of oil still rise to the surface of the water -- metaphorical ‘Black Tears’ shed for those lost in the attack. Reading those names etched in marble was a mournful reminder of the sacrifices and the human cost of protecting our Nation and the ideals this great country represents.”

Yes, the human cost of World War II was great, touching virtually every family, every town, hamlet and city, and probably every street of this great country as boys and men and some women marched off to war, others went to work in factories, offices and for the war effort and everybody scrimped and saved and recycled and reused. And those boys became men while serving, often for years before they saw loved ones again.

Nearly 300,000 U.S. service members died in combat and more than 400,000 fell overall, while nearly 700,000 were wounded. And the whereabouts of more than 72,000 Americans who fell in World War II are still unknown.

These facts unite all of us in reverence and thankfulness for that joint enterprise of war-fighting and home-fires-burning, of factory-working and wartime rationing, and a sad but stoic acceptance of loss that was part of the price of war and victory and freedom. Those qualities united our forebears and allowed them to prevail, not just in that war, but others.

Yet where is that unity of purpose now? Have we squandered that bedrock of patriotism, can-do-ism, that joint contract of citizenship that has always helped us remain free and strong? Where is that national resolve that allowed us, when called to action, to rise above petty political and ideological differences?

On the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor’s attack, let us each take a moment to try to shelve our finger-pointing, conspiracy-mongering and anger, if only for a day, and maybe reach out to the last antagonist who irked us to talk about our valorous forebears, instead.

Can we dig down and find those commonalities that should bind us again into one America, one solid, strong nation working together, inexorably to build a better, more just, more prosperous United States -- 50 states united not divided?

As the USS Arizona reminds us, those were the days when brothers enlisted together, served together and died together -- as happened also with the five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo, Iowa, who enlisted less than a month after Pearl Harbor, then died when their light cruiser, the USS Juneau, was torpedoed for the second time during the Nov. 13, 1942, battle of Guadalcanal, exploded and sank.

After World War II, the U.S. military adopted a policy that made it harder - but not impossible - for siblings to serve together in danger. And, some, maybe many, still do in today’s volunteer military.

We are at peace, but as seen through some lenses, our nation is in danger. Our divisions weaken us.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day reminds us of a day that united us not just in anger and outrage but also in determination, that galvanized every American to find his or her commonalities with every other American, and to step forward to fight for freedom. That determination is within us, just waiting to be found again.

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