News: Some Showdown

Luken and Cranley back down on police reform

Nov 29, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Mayor Charlie Luken (right) and Councilwoman Alicia Reece say the city is not to blame for delays.

Nov. 26 was supposed to be the day Cincinnati City Council heard the police division's response to criticism of its policies on use of force.

In a press release announcing a hearing by the Law Committee, Councilman John Cranley declared, "Council Moves to Implement Justice Department's Use of Force Recommendations." But the move turned out to be a sidestep, not a step forward.

Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. and Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman attended the hearing, but they didn't address city council. When it was all over, the only thing council really moved to do was ask to see the police division's use of force policies — something they have had access to all along.

"The people have the right today or any day to know what the policies are," Cranley said.

As a matter of law, this is true, because the policies are a public record; it doesn't take a demand from council to get them.

The hearing had taken on the air of a showdown after Mayor Charlie Luken turned down Streicher's request for a delay in the hearing. Luken and Cranley had said they wanted legislation to clarify ambiguous terms in the use of force policy, modify the chemical irritant policy to ensure appropriate use, establish a "find and bark" policy for police dogs, establish a use of force continuum and ensure that officers report all uses and shows of force. But none of that happened at the hearing.

In fact, the one revelation to come from the hearing was something of a disappointment. Luken, who had invited the Justice Department to review the Cincinnati Police, told the committee his invitation was an expedient. Luken said that if he hadn't invited the Justice Department, it would have acted on its own.

"The Justice Department was coming in here," he said. "They were prepared to sue us before the invitation."

'There's fatigue out there'
Cranley believes the public needs education on how to act if approached by a police officer.

"What are our duties? What are we supposed to do if a cop apprehends us?" he said.

Cranley said the Justice Department report was somewhat jarring. Among other alleged abuses, the report said police have drawn firearms on families during routine traffic stops.

"When I read the report, I'll be honest — I was somewhat compelled by those suggestions," Cranley said.

People are asking for council to do something, according to Cranley.

"I just feel that there's fatigue out there growing," he said.

But instead of new legislation or new information, the hearing was mostly about blame. Several council members faulted African-American leaders for urging council not to adopt reforms, especially the Cincinnati Police-Community Relations Collaborative — the mediation process settling a civil-rights lawsuit over alleged racial profiling by Cincinnati Police.

Councilwoman Alicia Reece said the collaborative is holding up reform.

"This council is not the ones saying we need more and more time," Reece said. "If we go along with more time, is the collaborative group willing to go to the community and tell them that this is the timeline the collaborative asked to have?"

Luken said mixed signals were coming out, and some have implied council is not doing anything, when it is trying to work with the collaborative.

"The people involved in this collaborative are asking for more time," he said.

Councilman Pat DeWine accused the collaborative of racking up lawyer fees at the potential expense of taxpayers. DeWine started yelling, saying he opposes spending money on the collaborative and the city could have responded to the Justice Department on its own.

"The bottom line is the decision this council made to enter into this collaborative is going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money," he said.

Al Gerhardstein, plaintiffs' attorney in the racial profiling lawsuit, objected to DeWine's statements.

"I would hope that we enter this not cynically, but positively," Gerhardstein said.

After DeWine and Gerhardstein tried to out-shout one another, DeWine got his say.

"I think it's outrageous that you would sit here and say it's cynical for me to ask about money that taxpayers are going to have to pay," he said.

Gerhardstein said he expects to take less than his full fee. He also said $200,000 in private money has been raised for the project.

The cost for special legal counsel hired by the city is in the neighborhood of $500,000 — not counting what is still left to be done.

Reece defended the collaborative.

"I'm not saying we're trying to bankrupt the city, but certainly a person's life to me is priceless and we could never pay for that," she said.

Councilman Paul Booth stressed the importance of the effort.

"While we've got to develop our neighborhoods and we've got to develop downtown, we've got to protect human life," he said.

'You will not tire us'
But can council really direct the actions of the police department? Juleana Frierson of the Black United Front says no, and that's why the group opposed Cranley and Luken's effort.

"Passing an ordinance is not the way to have total police reform in the city of Cincinnati," she said. "The community doesn't have faith in that. City legislation regarding police reform is not what we're asking for."

Frierson said that in the past council has not been able to force the police to follow its direction.

"There was an admitted police slowdown, and there was no entity that did anything about that," she said.

Councilman Phil Heimlich, who clings to the notion the police slowdown didn't happen, objected to Frierson's remarks.

"There was not an admitted police slowdown," Heimlich said. "That simply is not true."

Rather, according to Heimlich, police were verbally beat up and called murderers and got the impression people did not want them to aggressively enforce the law.

Cranley expressed concern that police policies be changed now to prevent any possible problems.

Gerhardstein offered a preventive solution.

"Don't violate anybody's rights today, tomorrow or for the long run," he said.

Gerhardstein said he expects to have a written agreement before council no later than January.

Former city council candidate William Kirkland who asked to speak on the issue, was told by Cranley that he would have to wait until the end. Kirkland defiantly reminded Cranley the meeting was a public hearing.

"I am through being sick and tired of your arrogance and the arrogance of this body," Kirkland said. "You will not tire us."

Cranley had a security officer remove Kirkland from council chambers. ©