Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Police force to address own tension

Mediator will work on race issues

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Racial tensions among Cincinnati police officers have been bottled up for years, and a racial slur by Cincinnati's police chief last month caused the cork to blow.

        Today a federal mediator will arrive to help stop the flow of angry statements, invective and accusation.

        “This goes beyond the police chief,” said Councilman Paul Booth. “There have been a number of incidents over the years. ... A whole host of issues.”

        This will be the second time in three years a federal mediator has been called in to deal with racial conflicts involving police. But while the focus last time was citizen-police relations, the council members said Tuesday that now it is about police-police relations.

        “In my view, the thing with the police chief is over,” said Mayor Charlie Luken, explaining that the issue now is race relations throughout the police de partment.

        The U.S. Department of Justice mediator was requested by the City Council last week after some officers argued the police chief's use of a racial slur was only the tip of the iceberg.

        Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinel Police Association, a black officers group, has noted two other incidents in three months involving black officers and white supervisors. In one case, he said, a supervisor assaulted an officer, and in the other a supervisor distributed an Ebonics version of the Miranda warning at the police academy.

        Mr. Johnson said there's no excuse for what the police chief said last month.

        To illustrate a police-citizen confrontation, Chief Thomas Streicher used an offensive racial term to refer to Sgt. Andre Smith.

        Although the chief apologized — and has received counseling from the public safety director — Sgt. Smith says the slur was a personal attack and had nothing to do with training.

        “There is clearly tension between black and white officers,” said Councilman Todd Portune. “The mediator is not here to conduct an investigation, but to help us.”

        While the chief might have been the proverbial straw, Mr. Portune said problems have been festering for a long time.

        “Good gosh, yes,” Mr. Portune said. “There is a deeper, underlying problem.”

        Councilman Pat DeWine said a person would have to be blind not to realize there is a problem, and he hopes the mediator can help the city to focus on issues. The neutrality of the mediator is crucial to getting people to agree, he said.

        “This is not someone coming in and imposing a view,” Mr. DeWine said. “It's a process that people can use to come to an agreement.”


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