Note to City Council: Just Say No

Two far-reaching ideas by Cincinnati's fly-by-the-seats-of-their-pants City Council is being sharply criticized by people with extensive experience in policing issues.

As City Council acts surprised about a $58 million deficit that's loomed on the horizon for months, an amount that's only fluctuated slightly due to changing revenues, members last week proposed abolishing the Cincinnati Police Department's patrol bureau and contracting those services to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.—-

Also proposed was abolishing the Citizens Complaint Authority (CCA), which was established a few years ago during a period of police reforms overseen by a federal court to settle a bevy of racial profiling lawsuits.

Both ideas, however, are getting an adamant thumbs-down by experts connected to the department.

Council hopes to approve a 2011-12 budget by tomorrow, Dec. 21, so it can recess for the holidays.

Last Tuesday a cadre of council members visited The Enquirer's editorial board to pitch the out-sourcing proposal, even though they hadn't yet told Mayor Mark Mallory or City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. Members unveiling the last-minute proposal were Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Jeff Berding, Chris Bortz and Wendell Young. They said it might help save some police jobs that are proposed for layoffs, if those officers instead were hired by the Sheriff's Office.

So hastily was the idea hatched, in fact, that it's widely misunderstood that all of Cincinnati's policing would be contracted to the Sheriff's Office. The secretive faction that proposed the idea, however, clarified during a budget hearing Friday that only one of the department's five bureaus — the patrol bureau — would be affected.

The functions of the other bureaus — investigations, resource, information management and administration — would remain in-house. Critics have said that facilitating work between the investigations and patrol bureaus when each is controlled by a separate entity would be impractical and unmanageable.

Now a local policing expert who's helped the department in the past has publicly opposed the concept.

In an e-mail sent to City Council, John Eck, a criminal justice professor at the University of Cincinnati, wrote that consolidating police services between the city and county doesn't necessarily result in any cost savings, and should only be done with adequate advance planning, and not on the fly in a couple of weeks.

If City Council kluges together the Cincinnati Police and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, it will result in worse policing services for the city,” Eck wrote. “This is a bad idea that should be rejected.”

Meanwhile, the proposal to eliminate the CCA also is being criticized as short-sighted. City Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan proposed the idea Friday, stating it would save about $500,000. She also proposed eliminating the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, aimed at discouraging illegal drug use by schoolchildren; and eliminating the Police Department's horse patrols, which she said would save nearly $1 million.

In an e-mail sent to council Friday, prominent local civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein said axing the CCA isn't an option, as it was agreed to in court-approved settlements — known as the Collaborative Agreement — that ended the racial profiling lawsuits.

“It is protected by specific legislation embodied in Article XXVIII of the Cincinnati Municipal Code,” Gerhardstein wrote. “The details of the board and staffing (including 5 investigators) are set out with particularity and then at (section 6) it states, 'The City Council will allocate resources sufficient for the CCA and CPD to accomplish the foregoing.' We pressed for this as part of the Collaborative Agreement in order to prevent exactly what you are trying to do now.

“The CCA is also set out as a term in both the Collaborative Agreement and the (U.S. Justice Department) agreements with the city,” he added. “We certainly will explore enforcement of that term if the CCA is abolished. The CCA serves as a cornerstone in our decade long effort to help the CPD earn the trust of the (African-American) community. We are making gains. Do not try to undo this effort.”

Additionally, City Hall staffers noted the Police Department has contracts involving the use of horse patrols that last well into the new year. Breaking the contracts likely would subject the city to lawsuits.

Oddly, although the city manager has proposed cutting money for human services agencies by 33 percent ($850,000), it has kept funding for the Center for Closing the Health Gap in another part of the budget where it remains less impacted than other social services funding.

The Center, run by ex-Mayor Dwight Tillery — who remains a major player in local Democratic politics — has its funding included in the Community Development Department's budget. It received $2.5 million this year, which is recommended to be reduced to $1.7 million in 2011.

After Tillery left City Council in 1998, he eventually became president and CEO of The Center for Closing the Health Gap, a nonprofit group that promotes healthy living and is partially funded by taxpayer money. In that job, Tillery makes more than $157,000 annually in salary and benefits.

The Center’s mission is to lessen the rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, HIV and cancer occurring in the black, hispanic and Appalachian communities.

Sure sounds like a human services agency to me.

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