By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A court-appointed monitor declared Tuesday that the effort to reform Cincinnati's police department is back on track.
Three months after he criticized almost everyone involved with the police reforms, monitor Saul Green said in his latest quarterly report that significant progress was made during the past three months.
Green praised police, city officials and civil rights activists for resolving a dispute over investigating use-of-force incidents and for settling $4.5 million in lawsuits against officers.
He said those efforts show for the first time in months that all the parties remain committed to the reform agreements they signed more than a year ago.
"I think great strides were made," Green, a former U.S. attorney in Detroit, said in an interview. "I think people got the message. There's much more of a sense that this is something we can pull together."
Green's report is good news for a reform effort that, until recently, had been hamstrung by heated disagreements that threatened to send the parties back to federal court, where they could have faced years of expensive litigation.
"We've worked very hard after some tense times," Mayor Charlie Luken said Tuesday. "I think there's been a concerted effort to improve communication on everybody's part."
One agreement - between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice - requires major changes in the way police in Cincinnati do business. The other is a "collaborative agreement" that is designed to improve relations between police and the citizens they serve, especially African-Americans and other minorities.
Both of those agreements were tested during the past few months as the parties bickered over how to implement reforms.
At one point, the Black United Front pulled out of the collaborative and the Fraternal Order of Police threatened to do the same.
The Front has since been replaced in the collaborative with an advisory panel drawn from the African-American community, while the police union has toned down talk of withdrawing.
"We've gotten through some very rough periods," said Cincinnati lawyer Kenneth Lawson, who helped negotiate the collaborative agreement on behalf of the Black United Front.
"We're getting there in a more cooperative way than in the past," he said. "There are still disputes, but they are being resolved in a more professional and civil way."
Police Chief Tom Streicher said, "We are all working as hard as we can. We continue to remain committed to the agreement."
Luken, who criticized Green's first report in April as unfair to the city, said the monitor's latest report reflects a gradual change in attitudes. "It got loud at some of those meetings," he said of the disputes earlier this year. "Some of the volume has gone down."
The report said the resolution of the use-of-force issue was one of the most important developments. That dispute ended when the police and the Department of Justice agreed police would only have to launch a full-scale investigation when an injury or a complaint results.
Green said the other major change was the $4.5 million settlement that resolved most of the racial profiling and excessive force lawsuits that had been filed against city police officers.
"This settlement is a major step forward in establishing a better working relationship between (the police) and the community," Green said in his report.
But Green said there's still much work to be done. He said the police must improve the way they investigate citizen complaints and the way they evaluate officers.
He also said the Community Problem Oriented Policing program still "lags behind." The program is designed to identify and resolve problems in a community - from drug dealing to loitering - with the help of residents.
Green said those problems can be overcome if the parties keep working together. Luken said he is confident they will, although more disputes are inevitable.
"It would be na‘ve to say we will not have disagreements," he said. "But the spirit of the collaborative is alive and well."
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