News: Unsettled Feeling

If police reform deal holds, don't expect fast change

May 30, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

The Rev. Damon Lynch III of the Black United Front criticizes the city's pace in implementing police reform.

Settling a lawsuit doesn't usually cement friendships, but the settlement of a racial profiling lawsuit against the city of Cincinnati has been portrayed as an extraordinary collaboration.

Judging by statements last week, however, one of the collaborators, the Black United Front (BUF), is already back in conflict with its supposed partner, Cincinnati City Council. At the May 22 council meeting, BUF spokeswoman Juleana Frierson seemed to reject the settlement the group had agreed to in early April.

"You have done nothing to show that you want to work in a partnership with us," she said. "As of today we do not have an agreement."

So saying, Frierson raised a copy of the collaborative agreement above her head and tore it into pieces.

Frierson was right. The city doesn't have an agreement yet. Until Judge Susan Dlott of the U.S. District Court has approved the settlement, no one is required to do anything.

A fairness hearing set for June 6 will provide the opportunity to resolve formal objections to the agreement.

Some council members have criticized the BUF for engaging in meaningless theatrics. As if to illustrate the point, Frierson's performance in tearing up the agreement apparently had no legal meaning. Neither the BUF nor any of the other parties to the litigation filed any objections to the settlement with the court prior to the May 24 deadline.

Members of the public who want to address the settlement agreement have until Friday to file a notice of intention to appear before the judge.

Following the hearing, Judge Dlott willing, the settlement of the racial profiling lawsuit will be official, establishing Community Problem Oriented Policing (CPOP) and other reforms.

CPOP is an approach to policing that treats crime and disorder as problems to be solved and learned from in partnership with the community. CPOP seeks resolution through effective problem definition, careful analysis, restrained response and subsequent evaluation of solutions.

Once the agreement takes effect, the clock starts on roughly 40 "implementation steps" it contains. But even assuming the settlement is approved June 6, don't expect to see anything significant change in the streets of Cincinnati, at least not right away.

Before CPOP can begin trickling down to the neighborhoods, the wheels that open the valves of the bureaucracy must begin turning. In plain language, this means a hiring frenzy.

First, three highly qualified people have to be found: a monitor to assist with implementation of the agreement and report on the police department's compliance; a coordinator of the Community Partnering Program, which is a training program for improving police-community relations; and an executive director of the new Citizen Complaint Authority.

The monitor, required by both the collaborative agreement and a separate memorandum of agreement between the city of Cincinnati and the U.S. Justice Department, is to be in place by Sept. 8.

A solicitation for applications, available on the city's Web site, has been issued. No proposals have been received to date, according to Don Hardin, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), a party to the agreement.

No deadline is specified for the selection of a principal assistant to the monitor, the coordinator of the Community Partnering Program. The agreement assigns the coordinator the task of developing a community-wide training program by Aug. 5.

Because the parties have until September to agree on a monitor, it is likely that person will have no say in the hiring of his or her major deputy. Four to five program workers will assist the coordinator in leading the training effort.

The agreement calls for formation of a new Citizen Complaint Authority (CCA) — seven citizens, appointed by the mayor, who will "review evidence and render judgments on alleged officer misconduct." The CCA is supposed to be ready to assume the responsibilities of the city's Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI) and Citizens Police Review Panel by Aug. 9.

Before then, CCA board members must undergo background investigations, complete courses at the Police Training Academy, receive instruction in constitutional and criminal protections and participate in a series of ride-alongs with police officers on patrol. To date, 15 candidates have submitted applications. Mayor Charlie Luken has said he expects 100 applications by Friday, the deadline.

The CCA's executive director, who will work for the city manager, will be chosen from a field of three nominations submitted by the members of the board. The director is required to have professional experience in investigating police misconduct.

Although the agreement doesn't specify a target date, the director's services would seem to be required for the commencement of CCA operations on Aug. 9.

The director will have a support staff, plus five professional investigators. OMI has four investigators on its staff. These are the people who will be responsible for turning the collaborative agreement into an instrument of change.

So far, progress is not obvious, but that doesn't mean it isn't underway, according to Hardin. The FOP has been communicating with lawyers for the plaintiffs, he says.

"We're staying in touch with Al Gerhardstein and Scott Greenwood, to be sure things are moving forward," Hardin says. "Nobody's sitting on their hands. We're not issuing a press release every time we make a phone call." ©