News: Collaborate Some More

City and ACLU agree to extend reform deal

Jun 16, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Sean Hughes

Alphonse Gerhardstein, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the Collaborative Agreement is "a work in progress."

Cincinnati officials are calling it a "transition period" but no matter how it's spun, the landmark five-year reform deal that ended a class-action racial profiling lawsuit against the city's Police Department is being extended for another year.

The deal, known as the Collaborative Agreement, was set to expire in August, and many city council members had hoped federal court oversight of the department would end at that time. After private discussions with a federal judge, however, city leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) this month agreed to a partial extension to allow more time to implement new policing tactics called Community Problem Oriented Policing (CPOP).

Now the agreement will end Aug. 5, 2008.

Saul Green, a former federal prosecutor appointed by a judge to monitor the department's progress, stated Cincinnati Police had made significant improvements in several aspects of the deal including overhauling its use of force policies and increasing officer accountability. Still, Green sided with the ACLU's concerns that more work was needed on CPOP.

The Collaborative Agreement is actually two separate deals that were combined by U.S District Judge Susan Dlott. The agreements were negotiated in the months following the spring 2001 riots, triggered by the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old man. (see "Mayor Hunky Dory," issue of April19-25, 2001).

The first deal was a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Justice Department involving technical changes to police training.

It affected the department's use of force policies and required a new computerized system for tracking officer behavior, in hopes of identifying problem officers. That agreement expired in April.

Cops are committed
The other deal, which settled the ACLU's racial profiling lawsuit, involved changes in policing strategies. It called for police to switch to CPOP, which entails greater interaction between police and residents and takes a more preventive approach to crime. This agreement was supposed to expire in August.

"It's very positive for the city to be recognized for having achieved all of the goals we had on paper for this five-year period," says City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.

CPOP has been a stickier matter, but the city welcomes the extra time to get it right, he adds.

"The city is supportive of the transition period because admittedly we worked until the 11th hour on getting all the hows and whys down on paper about the process," Dohoney says. "We have to make sure it's carried through. We have nothing to hide, so we're not opposed to this additional period."

The ACLU also praises the compromise.

"Full implementation of problem solving or evidence-based policing will lead to real progress on relations between the police and the African-American community," says Alphonse Gerhardstein Jr., an ACLU attorney. "Continued court supervision and deadlines will keep us focused on this hard work."

CPOP has proven to be the central point of dispute ever since the deals were signed in 2002, with debate on all sides about how much involvement the public should have in shaping how officers do their jobs.

Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. initially favored a more limited role that focused on using residents to patrol their neighborhoods and report crimes and suspicious activity to the police. The ACLU, though, insisted on enforcing a provision to create the Police Community Partnering Center to oversee the department's CPOP efforts and to coordinate similar efforts among civilian groups and others.

"The police have sort of dragged their feet on this," Gerhardstein said earlier this year (see "A Matter of Trust," issue of Jan.24-30). "It cuts right to the core of their proprietary skills: 'We're the experts, we know what we're doing.' "

Gerhardstein credits Dohoney, who began his job late last summer, with helping reach the compromise and getting the police department's focus back on implementing CPOP.

"Mr. Dohoney has recommitted the city to fulfilling that part of the agreement, and I think the police leadership has committed to getting it done," Gerhardstein says. "I am much more encouraged than I was before."

Some city officials privately say that some of the department's earlier resentment toward CPOP stemmed from the Black United Front's withdrawal as a plaintiff in the case in April 2003. The Front had agreed to do much of the community engagement work to involve citizens, but that didn't happen after the withdrawal, they say. The ACLU has tried to fill that void with mixed success.

But some department critics believe city officials purposely manipulated the situation to undermine CPOP and try to get the city released from the deal early. They noted the Black United Front only withdrew from the deal after city council pressured it to choose between the Collaborative Agreement and its then-boycott of downtown. City officials had complained that the boycott was hampering efforts at raising $20 million from private companies to pay for some of the reforms.

The money was raised, however, and critics point out that city officials, the police department and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) all agreed to the deal with full knowledge that the Black United Front was sponsoring the boycott. Judge Dlott concurred and twice rejected city requests to pull out of the deal.

'Work in progress'
Since then the resistance has softened, and the city established the Police Community Partnering Center to oversee the CPOP process. A retired assistant police chief, Richard Biehl, was hired to head the center. CPOP groups have been formed in about 20 of Cincinnati's 51 neighborhoods.

As part of the recent extension, all sides agreed on dismissing the FOP as one of the parties to the deal, although the union will be allowed to continue participating in the process on a voluntary basis.

In a brief, narrowly focused statement about the extension, the FOP says it's glad that its past support was affirmed.

"We are pleased that the other parties to the Collaborative Agreement have affirmed the voluntary efforts of the FOP in fulfilling its obligations within the five-year period," wrote FOP President Kathy Harrell.

Among the police reforms that all sides concurred had been successfully reached during the past five years were:

· revamping use of force policies and improving training, which has resulted in fewer injuries to residents and officers;

· forming a specially trained unit for dealing with mentally ill suspects;

· instituting the computerized "Employee Tracking Solutions System," which monitors and evaluates officer performance based on 19 types of activity; and

· creating the Citizens Complaint Authority to conduct independent investigations of alleged police misconduct.

Also, Green says the city's recent violence reduction efforts, such as the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, Operation Ceasefire and Out of the Crossfire at University Hospital, are good first steps at utilizing CPOP.

Fully implementing CPOP is important, Gerhardstein says, because recent studies conducted by the Rand Corp. as part of the Collaborative Agreement concluded certain policing strategies — such as the department's much-publicized Operation Vortex crime sweeps — impact African-American neighborhoods more negatively than their white counterparts.

How police handle a complaint about minor offenses such as possession of an open container of alcohol often differs between predominantly black and white neighborhoods; in a black area, police are more likely to issue a citation or use it as a pretext for a search because the resident lives in a high-crime area.

"When you sweep through the black community and treat loitering the same as crack cocaine dealing, you cause a lot of collateral damage," Gerhardstein says. "It increases tensions."

Police supervisors have agreed to examine and, if necessary, tighten how the Vortex unit is used, Gerhardstein adds.

"It still exists, and we're working with police to make it more evidence-based," he says. "It's a work in progress." ©