In response to the national dialogue on how to improve police-community relations following the Minneapolis police-involved death of George Floyd, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said he has issued an executive order creating a new complaint-liaison position with the city and forming a Bexley citizen-review advisory board.
The new measures are designed to increase a sense of trust between the community and police officers, Kessler said during a discussion at Bexley City Council's June 9 meeting.
"Our Bexley police force is comprised, I believe, of 28 sworn officers, officers that hail from an increasing diversity of backgrounds, an increasing diversity of demographics. I do believe, firmly, that each and every Bexley police officer has the community at heart," Kessler said. "But that is not to say that there (isn't) so much to be learned from the many lessons that we have examining our own policies, examining the ideas that we're hearing at the national level."
The complaint liaison will assist residents who file grievances about police officers, code-enforcement officers or other city employees and follow up on complaint forms that are filed through the city's website, bexley.org, if residents choose, Kessler said.
"When a resident or a nonresident or anyone has a concern about the fairness of not just policing, but code enforcement, which is another function of the city where bias could be involved, or the distribution of services, we have a complaint form online," Kessler said. "Now residents will have the option to connect with a complaint liaison, which will assist citizens in filing and following up on complaints and will provide resources and support through the process: somebody to answer questions, provide advice and assist through the process of filing a complaint."
According to Kessler's executive order, "The Bexley Citizen Review Advisory Board is charged with reviewing complaints pertaining to unlawful discrimination or bias directed by city employees that are under appeal to the mayor."
Kessler said the board's formation arose out of recommendations over the years from Bexley's Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative that Kessler had discussed with police Chief Larry Rinehart and other police administrators on how to enact.
"I feel it's very important for us to have a third-party review process," Kessler said. "When a complaint has been appealed, the advisory board will review the appeal, they will independently review it and they will provide their own independent, written report. That written report will be a matter of public record ... and before I hear that appeal, I'll have the ability and the opportunity and, obviously, the responsibility to review the written report of the Bexley Citizen Review Advisory Board and in my appeal decision, will address whatever finding was found by that advisory board and consider it when rendering a decision."
The three members Kessler appointed to begin serving on the board, effective June 9, are Grandon Avenue resident Bryan Drewry, Bullitt Park Place resident Becky Guzman and South Remington Road resident Lee Nathans. Kessler said each member has completed the Bexley Citizens Police Academy, which familiarizes residents on how police interact with the community.
Each also has served in various community-service roles. Drewry, who is African American, is an officer with the Bexley Minority Parent Alliance, which provides support for minority students in the Bexley City School District.
Council member Richard Sharp said the Bexley Police Department recently received recertification in the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board's Law Enforcement Certification 2020 Public Report. In the report, the collaborative, which includes law enforcement and community members, rates police departments on standards that include use of force and employee recruitment and hiring.
"That certification centers around training, policy, implicit bias training, diversity. They actually send a team to the agency to inspect the issues," Rinehart said. "It's a very in-depth certification."
Rinehart said he was horrified by the Minneapolis police's treatment of Floyd, an unarmed African American man.
"As officers of the law, we are charged with preserving peace and forgoing force unless no other options are available to us," he said. "There is and never will be, in what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis, can be justified or understood to be anything other than the murder that it was."
Rinehart said the Bexley Police Department condemns excessive force and any type of enforcement or disrespect by law-enforcement officers against an individual.
"The leadership of the Bexley Police Department, along with our elected leaders, have frequent dialogue about what our community is doing to eradicate bias in policing and to aspire to the highest standards of accountability and professionalism," Rinehart said. "The Bexley Police Department's values of fairness, integrity, respect and empathy are cast in stone and we live by the values every day. We specifically train to diffuse tense situations and connect to our community and we have increasingly trained around issues of implicit bias and sensitivity."
Rinehart said he encourages residents to report instances of bias to the department by calling 614-559-4444 or by going online to bexley.org/complaint.
"If you ever feel that you or someone you know has been the subject of police bias, we want to know about it so that we can look into it, let you know what we find and make any changes that need to be made," Rinehart said.
Kessler said the complaint liaison would be a consultant hired on a contractual, as-needed basis at a cost yet to be determined. He said term lengths have not been established for the Citizen Review Advisory Board.
"There isn't currently a formal term, as our emphasis is on getting this additional accountability tool up and running and gathering take-aways from any experiences we have with the process," he said. "In the future, we hope to further develop the process with council confirmation, posting of any available positions, formalized terms, etc."