Blame Game

As city's Collaborative Agreement nears end, the first police monitor recalls rocky start with city leaders in 2002

It took a year longer than expected and there were several bumps along the way, but a court-appointed monitor recently concluded that the Cincinnati Police Department has improved enough to be released from federal court oversight.

Sometime this month, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott will review the monitor's recommendation and decide whether to end the Collaborative Agreement, the landmark reform deal reached in 2002 that ended a racial profiling lawsuit against the department.

Just as the agreement is set to end, however, the lawyer who served as the first court-appointed monitor for a tumultuous seven-week period in fall 2002 has written a lengthy report alleging that Cincinnati officials and police supervisors initially weren't committed to making any reforms and secretly tried to undermine the deal.

Alan "Kal" Kalmanoff, director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Institute for Law and Policy Planning, says his activities as monitor and the bills he submitted were deliberately distorted and misrepresented by Cincinnati officials to derail the reform process.

Kalmanoff adds that the effort was aided by inaccurate articles in The Cincinnati Enquirer, which he says had "an unusually cozy relationship" with city officials.

The ex-monitor further criticizes Dlott for pushing to include retiring Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andrew Douglas in the monitoring, despite Douglas' having previous ties to the police union and one of the civil rights groups involved in the lawsuit.

Kalmanoff calls Douglas' participation "obvious conflicts of interest" that was "unethical, dishonest and ultimately damaging to police reform in Cincinnati."

'Disingenuous at best'
Kalmanoff's 38-page paper, published recently on his consulting firm's Web site (www.ilpp.org), reveals new details about the politically charged environment surrounding Cincinnati Police during the months following the April 2001 riots.

The civil unrest occurred after a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager — who was wanted on misdemeanor warrants — during a foot chase in an Over-the-Rhine alley. The shooting ignited long-simmering tensions between Cincinnati's black community and police, problems that had largely been ignored by City Hall.

A court-appointed monitor was among the provisions in an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department for improving police operations and a separate settlement of a lawsuit that accused police of harassing African Americans.

The lawsuit alleged a 30-year pattern of racially biased policing, but in settling the case the city didn't admit to wrongdoing. Then-Mayor Charlie Luken asked for a separate Justice Department review after the riots.

After lengthy and contentious negotiation sessions among city officials, the police union, the Black United Front and the American Civil Liberties Union, Dlott appointed Kalmanoff as monitor on Sept. 27, 2002, one month after the initial deadline. Shortly into Kalmanoff's work, however, Luken and city council complained about a $55,000 bill Kalmanoff submitted.

Under the agreement, Kalmanoff was supposed to receive $1 million annually for five years — or $5 million overall — for his monitoring work. Luken was concerned that such a high bill early in the process meant the city would end up paying far more than the other parties. Luken also questioned the appropriateness of some charges billed such as time spent attending an annual NAACP banquet, preparing for travel to Cincinnati and meeting with an Enquirer reporter for an interview.

"Outrageous is the only way to describe the bill," Luken said at the time. "I've told the city manager not to pay this bill."

But Kalmanoff's report states that a municipal staffer — Michael Miller of the city's administration office — urged him to submit an itemized bill just a few weeks after beginning his work. Justice Douglas, who was worried the city might bristle at paying for the reforms, repeated the request. Submitting the bill would "force the city's hand" into creating an escrow account for the money, Douglas told Kalmanoff, according to the latter's report.

"Justice Douglas was wrong," Kalmanoff's report states. "Instead of taking the bill to the court, the city took it to the media. The negative reaction was instantaneous, and a new firestorm of publicity engulfed the monitorship."

At that point, Luken e-mailed Kalmanoff, telling him to immediately stop his work until the city could ask Dlott to remove him as monitor. Kalmanoff received the e-mails as they appeared simultaneously on The Enquirer's Web site.

"City leaders' statements to the press on this point were disingenuous at best, blatant and intentional misstatements of truth at the worst," Kalmanoff writes in his report. "The comments of Mayor Luken and (other city officials) could only have been intended to set the stage for Cincinnati to reject (Kalmanoff's firm) as monitor and attempt to withdrew from the agreements."

Luken, who now works as a corporate lobbyist here and in Columbus, says the bill merely was one of several problems that he and other officials had with Kalmanoff's work.

"To the best of my recollection, it's been quite a while, it was the bill that was the final catalyst that prompted me to get rid of him," Luken says. "It included some bizarre things."

The larger problem, the ex-mayor adds, was that Kalmanoff wanted to expand the monitor's duties beyond the scope of the agreements.

"In my interviews with him, I found him to lack a certain understanding of what we needed," Luken says. "I remember him as disconnected and aloof."

Billing was getting 'ridiculous'
Prior to the billing dispute, articles appeared in The Enquirer over an 11-day period that repeatedly misstated how much the monitoring would cost, Kalmanoff writes.

Robert Anglen, then The Enquirer's City Hall reporter, wrote that a review of Kalmanoff's proposal to get the monitor job indicated it might cost $7.5 million or more to do the monitoring work, well above the $5 million cap. The articles included comments from the then-city manager and some city council members reacting with shock and bristling at the figures.

Kalmanoff writes that his proposed budget to monitor both agreements was only $3.9 million, well below the cap.

"Anglen mistakenly added together our projected budgets for monitoring each agreement, plus our combined budget for monitoring both agreements together," Kalmanoff writes. "These three calculations were called for in the application process. Mistakenly or otherwise, Anglen added all three figures together, thus arriving at a grossly inflated and inaccurate figure."

Luken and city council were aware of the misrepresentation and could have corrected it, Kalmanoff adds, but never did.

"What possible purpose could such deceptions serve? Perhaps the city and its friends at The Enquirer hoped to avoid imposition of police reforms," he writes.

Kalmanoff's report also states that his firm's work was undermined by "the local media, which enjoyed (then and now) an unusually cozy relationship with the city. Officials encouraged the local news outlets, which misrepresented the Collaborative Agreement and (his firm's) role to sow confusion and stall reform."

(Full disclosure: I wrote articles at the time about the dispute for The Cincinnati Post.)

Kalmanoff offers no proof of Anglen's complicity. Anglen now works for The Arizona Republic, where he wrote a critically acclaimed series on how the use of Taser stun guns by police nationwide have led to multiple deaths. He also was once nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for exposing Social Security scams among California's Death Row inmates.

Still, although The Enquirer's editorial page now writes glowingly about the benefits that the Collaborative Agreement has had on the city, the newspaper wasn't always so supportive.

Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson wrote a column that called the Collaborative "a hurry-up deal to settle bogus profiling lawsuits that were not even settled."

Luken denies Kalmanoff's allegations.

"His proposal was open-ended in terms of cost," the ex-mayor says about Kalmanoff. "When his first bill came in, I saw it could get ridiculous. It certainly wasn't deliberately misstated. (The proposal) was a matter of public record and anyone could read it. It was what it was."

'Public statements undermine successful implementation'
Although it's not widely known, federal officials ultimately sided with Kalmanoff, who resigned the monitor position after just seven weeks.

The U.S. Justice Department reprimanded Cincinnati officials in November 2002 for how they handled the flap. In a strongly worded two-page letter, Justice Department officials told city leaders they don't unilaterally control the monitor and that publicly discussing disputes about the position could jeopardize the two legal settlements involving police reform.

The letter also stated that the city must negotiate "in a constructive fashion" any disputes with other parties involved in the deal.

"Regardless of the merits of the criticism of Dr. Kalmanoff, such public statements undermine successful implementation of the (deal) and have the potential to place the city in breach of the (deal)," wrote Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Driscoll of the Justice Department's civil rights division.

Driscoll's 2002 letter continued that the Justice Department "views the independence of the monitor as crucial to the success and credibility of the (deal)."

In fact, months after Kalmanoff left, in April 2003, Dlott ruled that city officials must pay him $91,000 in expenses. Dlott said most of the expenses submitted by Kalmanoff were reasonable and that the city was legally obligated to pay.

Although many of Kalmanoff's views can't be independently verified, it's true that city officials and other parties tried to withdraw from the deal a few times over the initial five-year period.

In April 2003 the Black United Front withdrew from the deal after city council pressured the group to choose between the Collaborative Agreement and its boycott of downtown Cincinnati. City officials had complained that the Front's boycott was hampering efforts at raising $20 million from private companies to pay for some of the reforms.

After the Front withdrew, both Luken and the police union tried to pull out of the deal, but Dlott refused their requests.

Because city officials knew the Front was involved with the boycott as the deal was negotiated, several black activists said the mayor and others deliberately manipulated the situation and made the demand as a method for ending the reform process while appearing blameless.

The judge didn't agree. Dlott appointed a 12-member citizen advisory panel, put together by the ACLU, to replace the Front as a plaintiff in the case.

Less than two years later, in March 2005, Dlott ruled that the city and its police department had breached the deal. Her ruling came after Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. and police supervisors blocked a court-appointed monitoring team from viewing police training and accessing records at police headquarters. The team also complained that Streicher and his top assistant, Lt. Col. Richard Janke, were persistently rude and uncooperative.

Dlott warned city officials to improve their behavior or face stricter oversight and the levying of fines.

"I had my problems with the Collaborative as it unfolded, and I argued with the monitor," Luken says. "I wanted to get out of it because I thought it should end with my term. At the end of the day, I believe the Collaborative was good for the city. We knew it couldn't happen without some controversy. I think it was healthy and the city is better for it."

City tried to 'undermine' Collaborative Agreement
Besides being a lawyer, Kalmanoff is a lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley. His firm, the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, is a nonprofit consulting group founded 28 years ago.

Kalmanoff, 66, is the firm's executive director. He previously served as a special master overseeing reforms in the California prison system and has written college textbooks on law enforcement.

Some cities and counties that have hired Kalmanoff over the years have criticized his work, but just as many others have praised it. Kalmanoff has said he's a lightning rod for criticism because the nature of his work is designed to challenge the status quo, and some politicians don't like that.

That's exactly what happened in Cincinnati, he alleges in his report.

"City officials used media-created confusion and outright deceit concerning the costs and terms of the monitorship to undermine its legitimacy," he writes. "This, in turn, set the stage for the city to stall the Collaborative Agreement and its imposition of external controls." %uFFFD

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