News: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Residents say it's what they want from police

Jan 7, 2004 at 2:06 pm
Zach Fisher

Working for RESPECT are (L-R) Judi Mendriski, Vermell Perkins, Amen Latham and Elinore Bailey.

The acronym for a new program by the Central Vine Street Block Club explains what participants want from police: RESPECT (Resident Power Equals Change Today).

The group consists of about 30 Over-the-Rhine residents who are organizing in an effort to improve police accountability. The RESPECT campaign has three demands, according to Zach Fisher, coordinator of the Contact Center.

First, the group wants officers working in Over-the-Rhine to participate in an educational program led by neighborhood residents. The program would include meetings with community groups and opportunities to do volunteer work in Over-the-Rhine.

"We want the police to understand poverty," Fisher says.

Second, RESPECT aims for increased police visibility. Many residents feel the police don't have a presence on the streets and often don't respond to calls about drug dealing, Fisher says. The block club wants residents to designate drug hotspots and have police visible in those areas.

The club isn't asking for police to sweep the streets but to have an actual presence there, Fisher says.

"The police are more likely to be harassing a homeless person than working at hot spots," he says.

Third, the group is demanding that money from drug-related forfeitures in Over-the-Rhine stay in the neighborhood and be used to fund job training and job placement programs.

"Something must be done to address the economic factors pushing people into a life of crime," says a statement by the club. "We will not be truly safe until we have economic security for our families and children."

The Central Vine Street Block Club launched the RESPECT campaign Dec. 19 with a party at the Contact Center. The club invited city council members and District One police officers, but none made it to the event.

"We wanted the police to show up, but we didn't expect them to," says Judi Mendriski, co-chair of the block club.

Though Capt. James Whalen was invited, he later said he was ignorant of both the block club and the RESPECT campaign. He also said he wasn't familiar with the Contact Center, which Fisher says is a 30-year-old community-based organization in Over-the-Rhine.

Whalen declined further comment, saying he was displeased by a CityBeat article about police off-duty assignments (see Protection Racket, issue of Dec. 10-16).

The block club plans to set more meetings with the police and city council members to discuss the RESPECT campaign, Mendriski says.

Club Co-Chair Elinore Bailey says she once returned home to find police threatening to bust down her door and shoot her dogs. The officers claimed that no one was supposed to be living there, she says. The police eventually made a call and realized they were at the wrong address, she says.

"The bad part is that I wasn't apologized to," Bailey says. "They made me feel like I wasn't a decent enough citizen to be treated with the same respect that I had to show them."

Contact Center literature says the Central Vine Street Block Club once had to move its meeting location because police wouldn't do anything about open-air drug dealing and dog fights happening nearby.

"They say yes to us and then they turn their backs and do whatever they want, which is usually the opposite of what we ask," Mendriski says.

Fisher says police have disappointed the club in the past. But there has also been some cooperation. For example, the group succeeded in getting "Drug-Free Zone" signs posted around St. Francis Elementary School. However, Fisher says enforcement has been lacking.

Fisher says police officers need to listen to residents.

"Residents will ask police what is going on regarding an arrest or something, and they will be ignored," he says.

The block club hopes the RESPECT campaign helps to build respect and economic security in Over-the-Rhine.

"I live in Over-the-Rhine," Mendriski says. "I see the police treat everybody as criminals."

In order to build understanding and communication with police, the club wants an officer designated to attend block club activities and keep residents informed of police activity.

"We know that police have a hard job," says literature from the block club. "Residents of Over-the-Rhine have it tough, too. One thing we don't need is disrespect and mistreatment from the very people who are supposed to be protecting us." ©