- Associated Press - Sunday, November 12, 2017

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A coalition representing minority groups in Ohio’s fourth-largest city hopes a code of conduct signed with police to improve relations between the two can be a model for other cities.

The pact outlines how people in the city should be respectful while dealing police and how officers should limit use of force and spend more time getting to know people in the neighborhoods.

Organizers who negotiated the agreement signed last week say it brings both sides together and will lead to finding solutions instead of reasons to blame each other if trouble arises.

“If you just get together when there’s a crisis, you’re just reacting to that crisis,” said Ray Wood, head of the local NAACP branch. “We wanted to have something that everyone could point to that goes beyond the dialogue.”

Work on the idea for a community code of conduct began nearly two years ago when tensions and disturbances began to mount over police-involved shootings around the nation.

There haven’t been any of those situations in Toledo as of late, but city leaders didn’t want to wait for that time to come.

The four-page code of conduct calls for community members to cooperate with police during basic investigations, to keep their hands in sight and to stop yelling or escalating the situation. It also says they are free to record their dealings with police.

It also says officers must remain as calm as possible and outlines when they can use force. It also encourages officers to spend an hour walking on duty to get to know people in Toledo’s neighborhoods.

Nearly all of the points dealing with police conduct already are in department policies, said Toledo Police Chief George Kral.

“What I’m hoping, is the biggest result is that when something is going down on street - on both sides - we take a breath and it’s ‘let’s talk’,” Kral said. “We give them a voice. We treat everyone the same.”

The police chief said the code of conduct is an extension of the community forums and an advisory group he’s put in place to build understanding.

“We all need to be singing from the same sheet of music,” Kral said. But if trouble does erupt, he wants a relationship between the police and the community already in place.

“Inevitably something is going to happen,” he said. “That’s where this is going to come into play.”

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Toledo, which has deep ties in the Hispanic Community, plans to meet with the city’s officers at the department’s training academy and discuss the code of conduct.

The organization played a central role in developing the policy.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the farm labor group, said community groups in other cities have reached out and want to see the code of conduct. “It has to be driven by independent groups, not city-affiliated organizations,” Velasquez said.

“There’s not much I can do in Baltimore or St. Louis or New York, but we can do something here in Toledo and get people together,” he said. “To solve a problem, you need people’s involvement.”

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