MANSFIELD -- It's fitting Ray Ward was in attendance Monday when a new "Code of Conduct" guiding the relationship between local residents and the Mansfield Police Department was signed during a ceremony at the Central Park gazebo.
Ward, the president of the Toledo chapter of the NAACP, helped forge an agreement in the northwest Ohio city that helped form the basis for the local agreement, an effort that began more than a year ago by Mansfield resident Wayne McDowell.
"This is a great day because it shows that people are coming together," Ward said during the hour-long event that gathered members of the Black/Brown Coalition, the City of Mansfield, Mansfield Police Department and some local residents.
"The community and the city administration and the police department are coming together to try to work through solutions," Ward said, adding the new agreement will not solve all problems.
"You won't be able to the just throw that Code of Conduct out there and automatically things will fall in place, because they don't. It takes a lot of work," Ward said.
McDowell said he learned of the code while reading an article in the Toledo Blade.
He helped form a coalition group that came to include members of the North End Community Improvement Collaborative, We ACT, Voices of Change, Activism and Leadership (VOCAL), and Latino Mansfield. The effort also gained the support of 4th Ward City Councilman Alomar Davenport.
The Black/Brown Coalition and the city announced in late July they had agreed on the five-page code, which sets forth standards of behavior that residents and officers should both meet when interacting with one another.
McDowell, who thanked Mayor Tim Theaker, Safety-Service Director Lori Cope and police Chief Keith Porch, said work on the Code of Conduct was far different than the five decades he spent investigating alleged police misconduct on behalf of the local NAACP.
"After so many years of seeking to improve police-community relations by eradicating the bad apples on the Mansfield police force, the effort to improve (the) relationship by an agreed upon Code of Conduct for police and community when they are interacting with each other, appeared to be a novel approach, which is worthy of undertaking," McDowell said Monday.
"This approach, however, will work only if the respected parties comply with each other's requirements under the code of conduct," McDowell said, pointing out police and community members must be willing to point out misconduct by both sides.
"I cordially invite the entire police force and the entire community to pledge, to read and abide by the Code of Conduct," McDowell said. "If all of us do so, relations with the police and the community, I believe, will improve substantially."
Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker said he was proud of the agreement, saying the collaboration "put Mansfield on the map" for the cooperative effort. He thanked McDowell and others for leading the effort on behalf of the community.
"This is something that is going to move Mansfield forward in race relations and everything in the community that we need to do," Theaker said.
Police Chief Keith Porch pledged the Code of Conduct will not "just be words on paper" for his officers.
"The police department needs to be in partnership with the community for it to function well. Will that be perfect at times? Not always. I can tell you that the men and women of the Mansfield Police Department are honored to serve the community and its members and want to do so with professionalism and be efficient with their duties," Porch said.
"We are going to make this (code) mandatory, that annually in our divisional training, that every member of the police department will read this, acknowledge it every year. So this is something that is a living breathing document that we're excited about," Porch said.
"So will officers make mistakes? Will officers commit crimes? Yes, they will because there's humans that are in these uniforms," Porch said. "And I can assure you when those times when those things fail for us, we are prepared to act, but that is the very rare case in those scenarios. We are proud and privileged to have the relationship in our community that we have in Mansfield."
NECIC founder and Executive Director Deanna West-Torrence could not attend the ceremony. However, Shayla Bradley from the organization spoke the words West-Torrence had written, calling the agreement "aspirational" and that work will continue among community members and the MPD to hold each other accountable.
Aurelio Diaz, also a member of the Black/Brown Coalition, said discussions with the city were "brutally respectful."
"Without being all philosophical, it is about having direct conversations and acknowledging all the needs of those people who are marginalized, but also supporting our safety-service forces," Diaz said.
Mansfield 4th Ward Councilman Alomar Davenport, who participated in the discussions leading up to the agreement, said he spoke Monday not as a member of council, but as a Black man who has concerns about police interaction.
"This is a community initiative and is something that came about from the community and was agreed upon by the administration. Not because council forced them to do, but because the administration, as well as the community, understands that we have to work together," Davenport said, calling the MPD a "vital part of our community."
McDowell has said in the past the preamble to the Code of Conduct sets the right tone for building that relationship:
"We agree, that, as collective members of one community, we value and respect the sanctity of human life above all else.
"We value and respect the fundamental freedoms and safeguards guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States of America.
"We value honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior, especially behavior respectful of one's race, sex, age, national origin, disability, etc.
"We value the diversity among us and are committed to treating one another with fairness, respect and courtesy.
"We commit to work with one another in the delivery of police services, with a sincere desire to listen and respond to criticism and a willingness to change for the common good."
By section, the code then spells out conduct standards for community members, officer conduct, officer training, record keeping, building community and police relationships and disputes and grievances.
For example, community members "will make an effort to ensure the officer will feel safe and can complete any official activity without fear of personal harm," the code includes.
The code includes a statement indicating members of the community "agree to act diligently to identify crime and criminal behavior, to cooperate fully with all investigations, and to assist in keeping the community safe."
Also, officers "will not use force against persons who verbally confront them and who do not impede a legitimate law enforcement function" and "will allow individuals to submit to arrest before force is used against them, wherever possible."
The code also rules out racial profiling by officers and encourages more foot patrols by officers "to get to know members of the community and to promote trust and relationship building."
In the code, and in the department's policies, chokeholds are not permitted during "a physical resistance, unless it is a life or death situation."
Porch said previously many of the goals in the code are already in the department's policies.
"I also feel it is important to highlight to the community the Mansfield Division of Police is accredited through the Commission On Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), meaning that we adhere to strict standards and our policies are modeled after the best practices for law enforcement, which is reflected throughout the Code of Conduct," Porch said.
The city first earned that national accreditation in 1996, he said.