Thursday, October 31, 2002

City officials disappointed in DOJ help

Offered 2% of $13M sought for police reform

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati is getting $315,000 from the Department of Justice toward more than $13 million in improvements that federal investigators say the city's police department must make.

That's about 2 percent of what city officials requested from federal authorities, who have mandated that the department install a new officer tracking and monitoring computer system, improved training procedures and changes to use-of-force policies.

"It is woefully lower than we asked for," City Manager Valerie Lemmie said Wednesday. "We asked them for $13 million. We didn't come close to that."

She said none of this affects two landmark legal settlements the city made in April to end a Justice Department civil rights probe of the police department and suspend a federal lawsuit filed by African-American activists who accused the police of decades of discrimination.

"The city has made an agreement and we will meet those obligations," Ms. Lemmie said.

Mayor Charlie Luken agreed and stressed that the city would find ways to pay for the obligations outside of the city's general fund, which currently faces an estimated $35 million budget deficit next year.

City officials are still hopeful that Congress will approve a 2003 fiscal bill with $2.1 million earmarked for Cincinnati. Ms. Lemmie also said the city will request more from the Department of Justice each year.

"This is a multiple-year agreement. The $13 million is supposed to be expended over a period of years," she said. "There is always a chance. We wanted to be optimistic about it. We didn't really have any idea what they were willing to do."

But even breaking up the $13 million request over three to five years - which is the estimated term of the settlement agreements - the city's request could have garnered $2.6 million to $4.3 million a year.

Scott Greenwood of the American Civil Liberties Union said the city should have gotten more than it did.

Mr. Greenwood, who represented activists in the discrimination suit against the city, said federal investigators acknowledged that the city would need significant financial help in changing the police department.

"The federal government should deliver," he said, adding that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft attended a signing ceremony. "If it is important enough to bring him here for a signing ceremony, then it is important enough to deliver many millions of dollars to the city."

He said everybody involved knew it would cost more money to make the two agreements work.

"I definitely wanted to have more. But it is better than nothing," said Councilman Chris Monzel. "I am disappointed. I definitely wish we could have gotten more funding from the DOJ, especially since we worked with them on this."

The Justice Department gave the city $175,000 to assist in the development of the computer tracking system, $100,000 for a youth street worker program in Over-the-Rhine and $40,000 for a Weed-and-Seed community police partnership program.

The Justice Department also gave the city about $4.8 million in grants and awards for programs outside the settlement agreement, including a $3.4 million grant to hire 45 community police officers.

"We appreciate any assistance that the Department of Justice provides to us," Police Chief Tom Streicher said. "But there's still a tremendous amount of resources that will be needed to implement everything."

He estimated that the tracking system alone will cost $12 million to $15 million, depending on what system is chosen.

Gregory Baker, the city's executive manager of police relations, said the money from the Justice Department will be immediately used for new community-police relations programs.

"The money we did get is going to be very helpful in assisting the department work with community groups," he said.

In its agreement with the city, the Department of Justice said it would "provide technical assistance in locating and obtaining funding" for any improvements exceeding $100,000.

In a letter to Mr. Luken dated Oct. 23, Justice officials pointed to a list of publications that have been sent to assist the police department. Among those: "Racially Biased Policing, a Principled Response," and "Innovations in Handling Citizen Complaints Against Police Officers.''


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