Thursday, October 18, 2001

Whites take turn in forum

Citizens surveyed on improvement ideas

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        White citizens tonight will become the fifth group to put forth ideas on how Cincinnati police and the community can better get along.

        As part of a mediation effort to settle a federal racial profiling lawsuit filed against the city, about 30 white citizens will gather for a feedback session from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral downtown.

    These are the goals listed by white citizens in Cincinnati who filled out surveys on how to improve police-community relations.
1. Ensure fair and equal treatment for all citizens of Cincinnati.
    2. Foster greater cultural awareness and racial sensitivity throughout Cincinnati, including the police division.
    3. Enhance understanding and support for the police division.
    4. Foster greater respect and trust between the police and the community.
    5. Develop more positive interactions and shared responsibility for public safety.
    6. Improve oversight and accountability of the police division to reduce officer misconduct and excessive use of force.
        More than 320 whites across Cincinnati filled out surveys compiled by Aria Group, a conflict resolution firm leading the mediation. From those surveys, the firm carved out a set of six goals, which the group will rank.

        “I decided I wanted to participate because I keep seeing the same old thing printed in the newspaper,” said Terry Murray, 52, of Monfort Heights. “The same issues now existed 10, 15 years ago.”

        The lawsuit, filed in March by the American Civil Liberties Union and local black activists, accuses Cincinnati of decades of discrimination against African-Americans.

        Ideas from this group look similar to those of other groups among the nearly 3,600 people who have participated in the process — African-Americans, religious and social service leaders, youth and city employees.

        The themes are to ensure fair and equal treatment for all citizens, and to foster greater mutual respect between the police and community. The ideas will become part of the unprecedented settlement.

        Although Aria Group, which is based in Yellow Springs, Ohio, initially thought a settlement would be reached in December, the firm is revising its timetable.

        Parties in the lawsuit are expected to begin negotiations in December or January, with a final agreement and presentation to a federal judge in February.

        “There will be tough negotiations,” Mr. Rothman said. “But my hope and expectation is that at the end of the day in February they will have a collaborative agreement.”

        Mr. Murray will participate in tonight's session, though he thinks his opinions may be in the minority. He wants the police division to change its attitude — from the top down.

        Instead of writing tickets to raise revenue for the city's budget, they should focus on serving and protecting, he said.

        “I hope that something changes,” he said.

        “You could see a change in six months if people want to do it. But people have to make it happen.”

        Phil Bonham, 73, of Wyoming, also plans to participate in tonight's session. Part of what he wants is for the city to come to an agreement about what racial profiling means.

        “People may think they're being profiled when they're not,” he said.

        So he suggests creating a pamphlet that is printed in the newspaper and given out by police officers during traffic stops.

        “Make it available to anybody who wants it,” he said.

        As the time gets closer for the two parties of the lawsuit to start negotiations, Aria President Jay Rothman said the process is picking up more momentum.

        “A lot of what we're talking about is creating an atmosphere of common purpose and agenda,” he said.


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