After the suspension of two Cincinnati Police Department officers who used racist slurs on the job came to light in the past month, some city leaders are pushing for a zero-tolerance discrimination policy.
Iris Roley is the city’s consultant for issues related to the Collaborative Agreement; a set of police-community relationship values outlined between CPD, Cincinnati Black United Front, the American Civil Liberties Union and community members in 2002.
Roley brought a proposed set of edits to the city’s non-discrimination policy, or code 25, during a virtual meeting held by city administration on Aug. 8.
Code 25 is the city's non-discrimination policy. It defines discriminatory harassment in its various forms, like harassment based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, national origin, disability, marital status, veteran status, etc.
The change being proposed to Code 25 is a zero-tolerance rule for uses of racial or ethnic slurs: "Except when approved by a supervisor, any use of a racial or ethnic remark, slur, epithet, word or gesture requires dismissal on the first violation," the proposed policy change reads.
The rule would apply to all city employees, but it's been proposed with cops in mind. CPD officers were the main point of discussion in the Aug. 8 meeting.
“I do not want my son to run into a cop that doesn’t treat my son like they treat me,” said retired CPD officer Donald Jordan. “I am for a zero-tolerance policy. If you can’t come to work for 10 hours a day and be professional you don’t deserve this job. Period.”
The current policy allows for light punishment
In its current form, the discrimination policy gives supervisors the leeway to discipline employees who use slurs based on the circumstance of the slur and the history of the employee.
“The policy still isn’t where it should be,” said assistant city manager Sheryl Long. “We're trying to do things differently. And different means, let's have a conversation with the community.”
Employees are able to face light punishment under the current policy, including written reprimand, suspension and mandatory training. According to the current discrimination policy, an employee could be fired upon the use of a slur, but CPD’s track record shows that doesn’t always happen.
Recent cases of hate speech in CPD
The May suspension of officer Kelly Drach was criticized as too light by Mayor Aftab Pureval when her case came to light in July. Drach was suspended for seven days without pay for loudly calling a telemarketer a “sand n*****” twice while working the desk in CPD’s Real Time Crime Center. Drach was confronted by a coworker after saying the slur once, then admitted to repeating the slur weeks later in the same context, according to internal investigation documents.
Interim Police Chief Teresa Theetge approved the suspension for Drach. While Theetge did not say outright if she supports a zero-tolerance policy, she appeared on the virtual meeting to condemn the use of slurs on the police force.
“Any kind of derogatory comments, treatment, anything like that to the citizens of Cincinnati is just not who we are,” Theetge says. “It is not representative of the thousand-plus sworn that we have.”
Employees would still have due process under the zero-tolerance policy
Emily Warner, deputy city solicitor for the city of Cincinnati, said those accused of using a slur would still have a process to defend themselves under a zero-tolerance policy.
“There is due process that would need to happen, so there would be a full investigation, there would be a hearing where you get to hear all the sides, and then the hearing officer would make a recommendation to the HR department,” Warner says.
“Zero-tolerance is not a lack of due process,” Johnson agreed. “This policy that is in place now gives too many opportunities to be wrong.”
Officer Rose Valentino awaits her punishment hearing for her use of a racist slur that was caught on body camera in April. CPD's recently completed internal investigation of Valentino revealed body camera footage of the officer saying, “Fucking n******s, I fucking hate them,” while stuck in traffic outside of Western Hills High School.
Valentino’s personnel file revealed other instances of misconduct, including a 2018 incident where Valentino pointed a gun at a Black realtor and a Black prospective homebuyer before illegally detaining them during a scheduled house viewing in West Price Hill. The city ended up issuing a $151,000 settlement to the men in a 2019 lawsuit.
Stress as an excuse for using slurs among cops
Both Valentino and Drach attributed their use of racist slurs to personal stress. As written on the incident report, Valentino claimed she had been “affected by her profession” and had “since sought treatment.” Drach attributed her repeated use of the slur to multiple personal issues, including stress from the pandemic and family issues.
Council member Scotty Johnson is chair of the public safety and law committee. He is also a retired CPD officer. He said officers who blame stress for the use of racist slurs shouldn’t be on the force.
“If you can’t control your mouth, then you need to go find something else to do,” Johnson says. “When you talk about the difficulty of the job – I’m talking specifically about police, it's a difficult job, it's a very demanding and difficult job – that’s why we have comp time.”
Interim City Manager John Curp has the authority to implement the zero-tolerance policy at any time, but Long said the city plans to gather input on the policy before presenting a policy revision to city council for feedback sometime in September.