A panel of nine criminal justice officials on Friday recommended limiting access to Ohio’s facial recognition program and establishing protocols that would seek to make the program less prone to abuse.
The panel’s recommendations follow a nearly two-month review of current procedures and public criticisms over the program’s secrecy and alleged lack of oversight.
The panel broadly looked at the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), a state database of criminal justice histories and records, but largely focused on the controversial facial recognition program, which was live for more than two months and 2,677 searches before Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announced its existence in August. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.The panel recommends limiting access of the facial recognition program to law enforcement, meaning police departments, sheriff’s offices, state highway patrol, county prosecuting attorneys and other local, state or federal bodies that enforce criminal laws or have employees who have the legal authority to carry out an arrest. Anyone else who wants to tap into the system would need to do so with written permission from the superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).
For those who would retain access, the panel says written policies and protocols should be developed and implemented. The recommendations extend from written rules for out-of-state officials to a training program that better establishes clear penalties for misuse and guidelines for reporting and prosecuting infractions.
The report calls for improved monitoring of the system, which it states is “perhaps the most effective measure of whether the system is being properly implemented for its intended criminal justice purpose.” The oversight should include random audits of OHLEG, one person in charge of monitoring OHLEG’s use in each local agency and a model for ideal use, according to the report.
The panel says the attorney general should also establish a steering committee comprised of criminal justice officials, along with an advisory group. The committee would be in charge of OHLEG training, monitoring and policy review, among other oversight functions.
The panel also advises the attorney general’s office to launch an education campaign that tells the public of the potential benefits of OHLEG’s programs.
Separately, the Ohio Public Defender’s Office recommends allowing citizens to access their own criminal history records through a secure Internet portal with a social security number, similar to AnnualCreditReport.com.
The panel included former Ohio Supreme Court justices, judges and law enforcement officials, among other criminal justice leaders from around Ohio.
DeWine, a Republican, says the facial recognition program is a vital tool for law enforcement to more easily identify and catch potential criminals. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper, say the program was allowed to operate for far too long without public knowledge or proper checks in place.When asked if DeWine will implement the recommendations, Lisa Hackley, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email, “The Attorney General has committed to implementing the recommendations. Some are already in progress. Others, such as those requiring new computer programming, may take longer.”
The full report:
Updated at 10:04 p.m. with comment from the attorney general’s office.
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.
On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.
An audit of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) found former Sheriff Simon Leis crippled technological developments, stacked leadership positions with political cronies and still kept his staff fiercely loyal during his 25 years in charge of HCSO. The Oct. 15 audit claims the agency was “largely frozen in time” and didn’t meet the most basic modern standards, including a failure to adopt computer spreadsheets and other modern technologies instead of keeping paper-based records that only one person can access at a time. The audit claims a few possible consequences for Hamilton County: outdated policing policies, exposure to possible litigation and an overworked, under-trained staff. To fix the mistakes, the audit recommends various investments and changes to policies that could prove costly to the county — perhaps too costly to a county government that has been forced to make budget cuts for the past six years. Read more about the audit here.
Developers sold the apartments and 96,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space in the first phase of The Banks for $79.5 million. In a memo, City Manager Milton Dohoney claimed the sale is a sign of the strong market that’s being built in Cincinnati. Dohoney noted that the sale will provide nearly $1.2 million for the city and county, which will likely go to other projects in The Banks, and allow Carter and The Dawson Company to repay the city and county’s nearly $4.7 million retail fit-up loan three years in advance. The sale should also increase the property’s assessed value, which Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes previously put at $52 million, or $27.5 million less than it actually sold for, and subsequently lead to higher property-based tax revenue, according to Dohoney.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) could force the Lebanon Road Surgery Center, a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic, to close after a health examiner upheld ODH’s decision to revoke the clinic’s license because it couldn’t establish a patient transfer agreement with a nearby hospital. Abortion rights advocates touted the closure as another example of how new regulations in the recently passed state budget will limit access to legal abortions across the state. But ODH handed down its original decision for the Cincinnati-area abortion clinic in November 2012, more than half a year before Gov. John Kasich in June signed the state budget and its anti-abortion restrictions into law. Meanwhile, Ohio Right to Life praised the state for closing down or threatening to close down five abortion clinics this year.
Reminder: Officials project the streetcar will have a much greater economic impact in downtown than Over-the-Rhine, despite what some detractors may claim.
The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office last night began threatening to arrest homeless people who refuse to leave the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center and find another place to sleep, according to Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. The sheriff’s office says the steps are necessary to put an end to public urination and defecation on county property, but homeless advocates say the county should focus on creating jobs and affordable housing to solve the root of the problem. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.
Former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson questioned her fellow Republicans’ legal threats against Gov. John Kasich’s plan to bypass the legislature and get the federally funded Medicaid expansion approved through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel. Davidson says Kasich is on “firm ground” legally because the state budget contained a provision that allows the state’s Medicaid director to expand the program. The Kasich administration on Oct. 11 announced its intention to call on the Controlling Board to take up the expansion, which will use federal Obamacare funds for two years to extend Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.
Ohio Libertarians and Greens threatened to sue the state if the legislature passes a bill that would limit ballot access for minor political parties. The Ohio Senate already approved the legislation, and an Ohio House committee is expected to vote on it at a hearing on Oct. 29.
More charges have been filed against a local spine doctor accused of carrying out unnecessary surgeries in the Cincinnati area and Florence, Ky., and billing health care programs millions of dollars, according to court documents released Thursday.
A race car managed to swap fossil fuels for hydrogen power.
A scathing audit of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) suggests former Sheriff Simon Leis crippled technological developments, stacked leadership positions with political cronies and still kept his staff fiercely loyal during his 25-year reign over the sheriff’s office.
According to the Oct. 15 audit, the result was an agency “largely frozen in time” that failed at adopting modern standards and practices for policing and corrections facilities.
As one example, the audit found the agency still uses what it colloquially calls “The Book,” a single, massive paper-based trove of financial data and other information, instead of modern technologies, such as computer spreadsheets. Not only did the agency insist on sticking to the old ways of keeping records, but one unit head reportedly told auditors that she simply does not trust computers.
The audit presents various consequences for Hamilton County: outdated policing policies, exposure to possible litigation and an overworked, under-trained staff.
“A mid-level supervisor indicated that in his twenty-plus year career, he has never had updated use of force training beyond the initial academy. This is inconsistent with the best practices and exposes the HCSO, the County, and officeholders to unnecessary legal liability,” the audit found.
Leis’ policies also had a negative effect on newcomers trying to build a career on the county force, according to the audit.
“The command staff was comprised exclusively of personal and political associates of the former sheriff, some with no true law enforcement experience except at that level,” the audit noted. “Almost no career employees were promoted above the rank of lieutenant, despite advanced training including degrees and other training (e.g. Southern Police Institute) directly related to their careers.”
One staff commander interviewed for the audit reportedly said the failure to identify, train and promote new leaders created “The Lost Generation” at HCSO.
One explanation for the dire circumstances, according to the audit, is that the agency completely lacked inspection and planning functions that would have examined policies and practices for certain standards and established plans to fix discovered errors.
Another possible cause: The audit found that five years of cuts created staffing gaps in several areas, particularly correctional facilities.
Still, the audit found the sheriff’s staff is so loyal that its members would quickly embrace and adapt to changes given through the chain of command. “This is a key advantage, and we have no doubt that both sworn and non-sworn HCSO members will readily and rapidly implement chosen reforms and changes,” the audit claimed.
The audit recommends various new investments and changes in standards for HSCO. It notes that some of the investments, such as a greater focus on modern technology, could help make the agency’s work more efficient and allow a reduction of non-sworn staff — and the costs associated with them — through attrition.
But the investments would involve a substantial policy shift for Hamilton County, which carried out major budget cuts in the past six years just to get to a point this year where large reductions or tax increases aren’t necessary to balance the annual budget.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil promised the audit during his 2012 campaign. It was conducted by former American Civil Liberties Union attorney Scott Greenwood and former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher.
The HCSO audit:
City Manager Milton Dohoney announced on Sept. 13 that Jeffrey Blackwell, the current deputy chief of the Columbus Division of Police, is being appointed to Cincinnati’s top police job.
The appointment ends a months-long process as the city searched for a replacement for former Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown, Detroit.
Blackwell was picked over three other finalists: Paul Humphries, who’s been acting Cincinnati Police chief since Craig left; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.
In a statement, the city touted Blackwell’s accomplishments in Columbus: Blackwell is a 26-year veteran of the police force, he was commended for his outreach to young people, he helped reach out to significant immigrant populations such as Somalians and Latinos, he advanced the use of technology and he worked with the city and communities to reduce crime and costs.
“Jeff understands that we have to work with the various communities we serve to build a culture of understanding and respect. In particular, I have spoken to him about our need to work in partnership with other organizations to reach teen youth and young adults to move the needle on reducing crime in this community,” Dohoney said in a statement.
With the decision, Blackwell will be put in charge of implementing new policies and leading the Cincinnati Police Department.
The appointment was made without much public input, even though some City Council members previously called on Dohoney to open up the process. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Sept. 9 sent a letter to the city manager asking him to hold town halls in which the public could ask questions and evaluate the police chief candidates.
The city manager is ultimately in charge of who gets appointed to the city’s top police job.
City officials are now considering four finalists for the Cincinnati Police Department’s top job, City Manager Milton Dohoney announced today.
The city has been looking for a replacement for former Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown, Detroit. Since then, Paul Humphries has been acting chief of the Cincinnati Police Department.
Humphries is among the four finalists being considered by the city manager. The others: Jeffrey Blackwell, deputy chief of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.
Whoever is picked will be charged with implementing new policies and leading the Cincinnati Police Department.
The four finalists were screened by a committee that looked at 28 total applicants. The committee was comprised of 11 members that included a former police chief, a former prosecuting attorney, Air Force veterans, business leaders and community members.
“I am appreciative to the Screening Committee for their time, dedication and the seriousness to which they approached the selection process in order to recommend this group of excellent candidates for our next Chief of Police,” Dohoney said in a statement.
The city manager will make the final decision of who to appoint as Cincinnati’s next police chief. Dohoney could choose one of the four finalists or consider other applicants until the position is filled.
In partnership with the Cincinnati Police Department, City Councilman Chris Seelbach on Thursday unveiled a legislative plan that would crack down on cellphone thefts by making it more difficult to sell stolen devices.
“We know that the cellphone is such an important part of everyone’s lives,” Seelbach says. “It’s how we connect to our loved ones, to our work environment. It’s how we capture moments that we want to remember. And so to have something like that stolen is definitely an offense that is personal.”
Americans are increasingly using cellphones for more than making calls. Applications now let people browse the Internet, social media and even bank accounts. But the diversity of uses has also linked cellphone theft to other crimes, such as identity theft.
Cellphone thefts made up 30 to 40 percent of robberies in major cities in 2011, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
The initiative will require the hundreds of dealers who currently buy cellphones second-hand to get licensed with the city and keep full records of the transaction, including a serial number of the device, a photocopy of the seller’s ID and other contact information. Seelbach likened the requirements to existing regulations for pawn shops.
The hope is that cracking down on dealers will make stolen cellphones more difficult to sell and less lucrative to potential thieves.
Seelbach says the plan will come at no extra cost outside of the extra policing work. Acting Cincinnati Police Chief Paul Humphries says the police department prefers taking preventive measures that stop cellphone theft in the first place than spending costlier resources on investigating a robbery after it happens.
If the legislation is approved by City Council, police officers will first take steps to educate dealers about the new law. Shortly after, police will begin cracking down with fines.
Officials are also advising cellphone owners to take their own steps to avoid having devices stolen: Never leave a phone unattended, avoid using a cellphone in public when it’s unnecessary and put a password lock on the phone.
Similar laws already exist at the state level, but they’re currently not enforced, Seelbach says.
The plan will go through a City Council committee on Monday and, if approved there, a full session of City Council on Wednesday. Seelbach says he’s expecting unanimous support from fellow council members.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Monday asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to shut down a facial recognition program used by law enforcement until state officials verify and develop safety protocols that protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy.
DeWine formally announced the program’s existence in a press conference Monday. It allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.
The program has been live for more than two months and so far used for 2,677 searches. In that time span, the program was kept hidden from the public and hasn’t been checked by outside groups for proper safety protocols.
The attorney general’s office is just now putting together an independent panel of judges, public defenders, chiefs of police, sheriffs and other public safety officials to look at the program and gauge whether currently standing protections are adequate.
“The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago,” said Gary Daniels, associate director of ACLU of Ohio, in a statement. “This system needs to be shut down until there are meaningful, documented rules in place to keep this information secure, protect the privacy of innocent people and prevent government abuse of this new tool.”
Shortly after unveiling the program at a press conference, DeWine acknowledged it should have been revealed to the public earlier: “In hindsight, if I had to over again, we would have put out a release the day that it went up or before that.”
Still, DeWine defended the program’s ability to connect law enforcement with criminal suspects.
“Historically for, I don’t know, decades, law enforcement has had the ability to pull up the (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) information,” DeWine said, before noting that similar facial recognition programs have been adapted by federal officials and 28 other states.
DeWine also explained that he thinks the current protections for the program are good enough, but he said it’s prudent to have an independent group verify the standards.
Misusing the program qualifies as a fifth-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of six months to one year.
David Pepper, who’s running for attorney general in 2014
against DeWine, criticized the current attorney general for how the program has been handled.
“It is highly irresponsible for the Attorney General of Ohio to launch something this expansive and this intrusive into the lives of law-abiding citizens without ensuring the proper protocols were already in place to protect our privacy,” Pepper said in a statement. “To have kept this a secret for this long only makes it worse.”
DeWine said the independent group will be given 60 days to come up with recommendations. His office intends to announce who will serve on the group in the next few days.
A federal judge on Tuesday extended the temporary restraining order recognizing a gay couple’s marriage in Ohio. As CityBeat covered here, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and is expected to die soon, sued local and state officials hoping to have their Maryland marriage acknowledged by Ohio before Arthur’s death certificate was issued. Judge Timothy Black sided with the couple, and he’s now extended the temporary restraining order until December, which should provide enough time for Arthur’s expected death and the remaining legal battle. The judge has made it clear that the order only applies to Obergefell and Arthur.
Ohio could spend less on Medicaid if it expands eligibility for the program, according to a new analysis
from Ohio State University and the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. But
the expansion would have to come with cost controls that cap spending
growth at 3.5 percent to 4 percent, as opposed to the current rate of
7.2 percent. Still, the analysis shows that policies including an expansion can
save the state money. Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the
federal government is asking states to expand Medicaid to include anyone
at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In return, the
federal government would pay for the entire expansion for the first
three years then phase down its payments to 90 percent of the
expansion’s cost. Typically, the federal government pays for about 60 percent of Medicaid in Ohio.
A Sycamore Township man died yesterday after Hamilton County deputies used a Taser on him during a brief struggle. Deputies found Gary Roell, 59, half-clothed and smashing windows right before they took him into custody. It’s unclear how many times the Taser was used or whether the Taser was the direct cause of death. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil says the deputies followed protocol, given the violent actions carried out by Roell, who punched a deputy in the face during the confrontation. Still, some groups have been asking police departments around the country to change protocol altogether. A 2012 report from Amnesty International found at least 500 people died in the United States between 2001 and 2012 after being shocked with Tasers during their arrests or while in jail.
The 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll found that higher-income Ohio adults reported better health than those with lower incomes. In 2013, 59 percent of Ohio adults above 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $15,856 for a single-person household, reported “excellent” or “very good” health, compared to only 26 percent of those below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $11,490 for a single-person household. The United Way of Greater Cincinnati is pointing to the results as just one other way life is more difficult for low-income Ohioans. The group intends to get at least 70 percent of the community to report “excellent” or “very good” health by 2020. Only about 53 percent of adults in southwest Ohio currently report such health, according to the Ohio Health Issues Poll.
Hamilton County is still offering its free recycling program for electronic equipment, including computers and televisions, until noon on Oct. 26.
The Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU) today sent out a warning to college students asking them to watch out for drugged drinks. OIU provided four safety tips: Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks can be drugged, students shouldn’t leave a drink laying around or turn their backs on it, they shouldn’t accept drinks from strangers or someone they don’t trust, and students should watch their friends’ drinks and act if they see anything suspicious. The Ohio Incident Based Reporting System (OIBRS) shows there were 14 incidents of forcible rape with drug as a weapon in 2012, but not all Ohio police departments report to OIBRS, so the numbers are likely understated.
A developer is planning to build 20 apartments in the mostly vacant Schwartz office building on Main Street, along the streetcar’s planned route.
Developers are still working on building apartments above the Fountain Place retail complex, as announced nine months ago.
Another steakhouse is opening in downtown Cincinnati.
Delta is now offering direct flights from Cincinnati to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Jungle Jim’s sold a $1 million Mega Millions ticket.
Watch lab-grown heart tissue beat on its own here.
A Sycamore Township man died overnight after the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office used a Taser to subdue him during a brief struggle.
While responding to a 911 call, deputies found Gary Roell, 59, half-clothed and smashing windows behind a resident’s home, according to the police report. When deputies ordered Roell to the ground, he charged at them and punched one of the officers in the face. The deputies then shot Roell on the back with a Taser to physically restrain and handcuff him.
After he was taken into custody, Roell began having labored breathing, and emergency medical services were called, the report reads. But before ambulances arrived, Roell stopped breathing. Despite attempts by deputies to revive Roell with CPR, he was pronounced dead upon reaching the hospital.
Roell reportedly suffers from bipolar depression and schizophrenia, which can lead to a distorted view of reality. He had apparently stopped taking his medication.
Two key facts remain unknown: whether the Taser led to Roell’s death and how many times the Taser was actually used. Jim Knapp, spokesperson for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, says those issues will be investigated by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Criminal Investigative Section and the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil says the officers followed protocol, given Roell’s violent behavior and actions.
For some, the question is whether police protocol is correct in the first place. Advocacy group Amnesty International has been asking police departments around the country to scrutinize standards for deploying a Taser.
A 2012 report from Amnesty International found at least 500 people died in the United States between 2001 and 2012 after being shocked with Tasers during their arrests or while in jail. On average, that’s nearly four deaths around the country each month.
But if officers don’t use Tasers, they must resort other non-lethal tools, such as pepper spray or a baton, that require getting closer to a target. That, police experts argue, could lead to more injuries.
Meet Roger Jeremy Ramundo, the man police shot and killed on July 24 after what’s now being called a “life or death struggle.” Police say they first tried to subdue Ramundo, who had a history of mental health problems. But when Ramundo fired his gun once, an officer retaliated by firing two fatal shots into Ramundo’s left back. For family members and colleagues, Ramundo’s death came as a shock; none of them seemed to expect that he could turn violent. Ramundo was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, according to the health care worker who notified police that Ramundo left home with his licensed gun, but he had been refusing to take his medication for either illness at the time of his death.
Budget cuts to human services, parks and other areas could be retroactively reduced or eliminated with higher-than-projected revenues from the previous budget cycle, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls announced yesterday. When City Council passed the city’s operating budget in May, it had not yet received the full revenue numbers for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. With the full numbers expected to come in higher than originally projected, Council will be able to evaluate options for what and how much can be restored. Human services funding was cut by roughly one-third in the city budget, putting it at 0.3 percent of overall spending — far below the city’s historic goal of 1.5 percent.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine won’t appeal the temporary restraining order that forces the state to recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple on their death certificate, but DeWine says he’ll continue defending the state’s ban on gay marriage. Lisa Hackley, DeWine’s spokesperson, noted that such restraining orders are normally not susceptible to appeal. Hackley’s explanation contradicts an earlier report from The Cincinnati Enquirer that the order was going to be appealed. Meanwhile, FreedomOhio says it will try to put an amendment legalizing marriage equality on the November 2014 ballot, which CityBeat covered here when the group was still aiming for the 2013 ballot.
The I-71/MLK Interchange yesterday moved closer to its $107.7 million funding goal when Ohio’s Transportation Review Advisory Council gave preliminary approval to Gov. John Kasich’s transportation plan, which will use $3 billion raised through Ohio Turnpike revenues to fund infrastructure projects around the state.
The Ohio Supreme Court will review whether anti-gambling opponents of racinos have standing to sue. Among other issues, critics argue that Kasich’s legalization of video lottery terminals didn’t represent an actual extension of the Ohio Lottery, which is why the state claims it was allowed to legalize the gambling machines without voter approval. The state’s Supreme Court says it will decide the issue after it rules on a similar case involving privatized development agency JobsOhio.
Democrats are voicing uncertainty about whether Republicans will actually take up a Medicaid expansion bill in September. Republican legislators rejected the expansion in the state budget, but they’ve said they will take up the issue in the fall. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion, which is funded mostly through federal funds from Obamacare, would insure half a million Ohioans and save the state money over the next decade.
Charter schools’ big challenge: finding space to house their facilities.
An Ohio gun group raised $12,000 to buy George Zimmerman a gun or security system.
Drivers, beware: Hackers could soon be crashing your cars.
Drinking coffee has been linked to a 50 percent lower risk of suicide.