City officials pledge 'refresh' to Collaborative Agreement

Officials say the refresh will measure the progress of the 2003 Collaborative Agreement and attempt to build upon it. While Cincinnati has seen progress thanks to the Collaborative, some aspects have fallen by the wayside and disparities remain.

Jun 2, 2017 at 3:54 pm
click to enlarge Cincinnati Police headquarters - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati Police headquarters

Cincinnati officials today announced a "voluntary" refresh of the city's historic 2003 Collaborative Agreement, which arose from federal court-ordered mediation after the 2001 police shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old named Timothy Thomas by Cincinnati Police officer Stephen Roach.

Thomas was black and Roach was white, setting off already-bubbling racial tension around policing that culminated in three days of civil unrest in Over-the-Rhine and other neighborhoods.

The refresh was announced during a news conference at City Hall featuring City Manager Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley, Black United Front activist and Collaborative Agreement project manager Iris Roley, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott, who oversaw creation of the original agreement for the courts, attorney Saul Green, who was appointed by the court to monitor reform efforts and who will play a similar role in the refresh, Councilman Wendell Young, Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac, Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils and others.

"Cincinnati is not afraid to look at itself and self-reflect," Black said at the news event. Reforms under the Collaborative Agreement have made the Cincinnati Police Department "a national leader" in community policing, he said, but more work can still be done.

The original Collaborative Agreement sought to shift Cincinnati Police Department away from aggressive tactics toward more community-oriented policing, created the Citizens Complaint Authority to receive and act upon complaints of officer misconduct or bias, aimed to diversify the city's police force and other efforts. The refresh, according to officials, will measure the progress of those aims and attempt to build upon them.

It will also look to ramp up efforts in the community, the city says, including boosting the CCA's role in engaging community members. Those efforts will be monitored by Green and a team of experts, including UC criminal justice professor John Eck. Green and his team will then deliver a set of action steps the city should take to continue improving policing in Cincinnati.

"You'll get that unfiltered review," Green promised of his role in the oversight process.

The CCA and other parts of the Collaborative have struggled with funding cuts, leadership changes and other impediments since federal court oversight of the program ended in 2008. That’s caused consternation from activists.

“Sixteen years later, we have seen improvements in public safety in our city, but there is still much work to do," Roley said. "This evaluation of the Collaborative Agreement will tell us what work needs to be done. And, I am asking Cincinnati residents to come together once again and share your vision of public safety.”

Roley noted that part of the process would be a large-scale public survey of attitudes toward policing in the city and encouraged residents to participate.

"Can we have both public safety and racial fairness? Is the Citizen Complaint Authority responsive to community concerns? These are questions we will need you to answer."

Policing data shows that CPD has improved in some aspects since 2001, but that large racial disparities remain in police stops, arrests and officer-involved shootings and that the department hasn't become much more diverse. Overall, the makeup of CPD has budged little since the 2001 unrest. Back then, 287, or 28 percent, of the city’s 1,028 officers were black. Today, 314 of the city’s 1,056 officers are. That’s a little less than 30 percent of the force in a city that is 46 percent black.

Use of force by police in Cincinnati has dropped nearly 70 percent in the past 15 years. Injuries sustained during encounters with officers have dropped by more than half. And the crime rate itself in the city has decreased by almost half as well — from more than 4,000 violent crimes in 2001 to just over 2,300 in 2014. That coincides with a large drop in crime since the 1990s in cities across the country.

But the reduction in crime and arrests isn’t the whole story. Police arrest data for 2015 up to October of that year shows that 2,090 of CPD’s 2,936 felony arrests were of black citizens. Of the department’s 13,447 misdemeanor arrestees, 9,430 were black. That arrest disparity has proven stubborn. In 2001 and the years immediately after, the ratio of black citizens arrested hovered around 77 percent. The rate has been as high as 83 percent as recently as 2013, and in 2014, black citizens again accounted for 77 percent of felony arrests by CPD.

CPD stops for minor offenses also still fall disproportionately on blacks. In 2015, 64 percent of those stopped by CPD for pedestrian violations and 63 percent stopped for traffic violations were black, according to department data. The city’s overall population is 46 percent black. Many of those stops came in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Some changes are already underway. The city recently pledged new efforts to find and reduce any bias in police stops by reviving a system designed to analyze police stop data that ended in 2012. The city will create a new position within its Office of Performance and Data Analytics to perform that task.

"We were lucky enough to have a Justice Department that was engaged, and we went through this process," Mayor Cranley said. "Like anything, it's had its fits and starts. There's always more to do. Continuous improvement is a never-ending process. As the country has dealt with more and more police shootings that have raised a lot of concerns about injustice, and as police officers have been gunned down in places like Dallas and Baton Rouge, there's a real sense that there are real issues bubbling up that we may not have thought of ten or fifteen years ago."