Sunday, May 05, 2002

Who will oversee police reforms?

Search begins for monitor as activists seek new role

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A national search begins this week to find a monitor who will oversee sweeping reforms to Cincinnati's police department, ushering in a new system of police-community relations.

        City officials say they are close to finishing a solicitation for bid proposals that must be published nationwide by Saturday. It must be OK'd by the Justice Department and the plaintiffs in a federal racial-profiling lawsuit against the city.

        This is the first of several pivotal dates involving two landmark settlements made last month to end a Department of Justice investigation of the police department and put to rest a lawsuit that alleged decades of discrimination against blacks in the city.

        But as the deadline looms, some community groups and residents who put together meetings and culled information for months before the settlement are struggling with an identity crisis.

        They are unsure of their roles now that the settlement has been reached. And despite meeting weekly since the April 3 agreement, they are finding out that they won't have much say in key decisions.

Settlement highlights
        Among those are hiring the monitor and a community coordinator to help create the new policing system, and how those jobs will be structured.

        “There is a disconnect between the parties (of the settlement) and the community,” says S. Gregory Baker, executive manager of the city's new police relations office.

        Not to worry, say lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Cincinnati Black United Front, the plaintiffs in the racial profiling suit.

        “The task is a huge one. We are restructuring the relationship between the community and the police. We can't impose that by fiat,” says ACLU attorney Scott Greenwood. “The whole point of our position is to partner with the community.”

Taking the lead

        The issue for lawyers is that the settlement makes the ACLU and the Black United Front responsible for implementing a new system called Community Problem-Oriented Policing.

        “We agreed to take lead on that issue,” Mr. Greenwood says. “I don't think it would be very wieldy to have all those people involved.”

        But some of those people are begining to ask what role they will play in the settlement.

        And if it remains in doubt — or is unacceptable — they could petition U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott at next month's fairness hearing, when she will hear supporting and opposing arguments before signing off on the settlement.

        “If there is conflict, as a citizens group, we have the right to do that,” says Steve Sunderland, spokesman for Citizens United for a Just Settlement. “Once the fairness hearing settles it, then it is set in stone.”

        While his group has been meeting weekly, other groups such as the mayor-appointed Cincinnati Community Action Now have launched their own programs to help community-police relations.

        “I am very optimistic that CCAN and our group will be able to work together,” Mr. Sunderland says. “But they have their own separate strategy that we did not know about.”

        He says his biggest concern is not falling into traps that other communities have fallen into when attempting to establish the new policing system, “which is the absence of community.”

        The idea behind Community Problem-Oriented Policing is to identify, track and resolve problems in the community such as repeat victims, offenders and locations. It seeks police cooperation in getting a handle on those problems.

        This is a large part of the collaborative settlement among the police, the city and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

        But paying for the community effort is up to the plaintiffs, who say they have raised about half of the $170,000 needed from private foundations.

Citizen sounding board

        Lawyers say community groups have not been forgotten and their roles will be better-defined once a community coordinator is hired.

        “We want that person to tap into the (community base),” Mr. Greenwood says. “That is our ongoing conscience. They are a sounding board and a drawing board.”

        He says the coordinator could be an executive on loan from a local business. There will also be program workers who serve under the coordinator whose job will be as liaison with community groups.

        Mr. Sunderland, who during negotiation talks helped organize meetings and gather surveys from 3,500 citizens about dealings with police, says he wants to be positive.

        “No one has ownership of (the policing) process,” he says. “All of the parties can work together.”

        The community coordinator will work directly with the monitor, who is being hired by the city.

        “The coordinator's role is community organizing and training,” Mr. Baker says. “The mon itor would be in charge of reviews, evaluation and providing technical assistance.”

        The monitor, who will oversee a long list of federal mandates required of the police department, will also monitor the plaintiff's community efforts.

        “We are close. We are close,” Mr. Baker says of the bid proposals. “My priority is getting the monitor in place. We've got a final draft.”

        Because of the overlapping court and Justice settlements, he says it is likely a team will be hired for the monitor's job.

        “That is what is en vogue today for monitors. We kind of have that expectation,” Mr. Baker says. “This is a nontraditional (proposal) that would require a person to have skills in many areas or have a

        Key dates, provisions in settlement

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