Sunday, February 1, 2004

Screen and hire Cleveland cops


Cincinnati City Manager Valerie Lemmie is right in thinking Cleveland's loss can be Cincinnati's gain. Cleveland's budget woes forced the city on the lake to lay off 250 police officers in December, and Lemmie was quick to join the competition to recruit those young, trained officers. Cincinnati is about 35 officers short of its increased authorization for 1,075. The city should seize this opportunity to select the best of the lot.

The Rev. Damon Lynch III, a long-time critic of police use of lethal force, misfired in blasting Lemmie's plan. "Cleveland cops kill more people than Cincinnati cops do," he told City Council Wednesday. The case of a person killed in Cleveland recently by a black officer was cited as proof that "it's the culture of the department, not the color of the officer."

Ten people were shot and killed by Cleveland police in 2002 and 2003, compared with two dead from Cincinnati police interventions. But it's wrong to tar an entire force for the actions of a few officers, or to assume those deaths were avoidable. Some of those police actions may have prevented civilian deaths. Even after the layoffs, Cleveland's force is larger than Cincinnati's - at 1,550 sworn officers.

Does Cincinnati need to carefully screen transfers from Cleveland? Of course. Will the Cincinnati Police Department need to retrain them in Cincinnati police procedures, especially use-of-force policies mandated by the 2002 settlement with the U.S. Justice Department? Sure. But the city will have the luxury of selecting from among a pool of trained officers with up to four years of street experience and four years of performance evaluations. That beats the guesswork of swearing in raw recruits. A 10-week special recruit class for the Cleveland cops is expected to begin in April at the Police Academy. It will save the city time and money in reaching its full complement of officers. Council voted in 2001 to add 75 officers over three years. Friday, a Cincinnati Police Department team was in Cleveland testing officers for agility.

The Cleveland layoffs also offer a rare opportunity to increase our Police Department's already diverse force. Chief Tom Streicher said the Cleveland cops include African-American officers, some fluent in Spanish and a few officers of Vietnamese heritage. Cops with specialized skills such as undercover work could be very helpful because they would not be recognizable to Cincinnati suspects. The class, in addition to spring and fall recruiting classes, would give the chief the broadest pool to pick from in years.

Other cities, including Atlanta and New Orleans, also are in the hunt.

The laid-off Cleveland cops aren't rejects. They were casualties of Cleveland's need to balance its budget. If anything, the argument that police forces need to change and broaden their "culture" should favor hiring relatively new officers from outside the region and not beholden to past practice.

The Cincinnati Police Department isn't your father's police force, and the addition of some Cleveland cops will help make it even less so. The right hires can make our department even better.

What do you think?

Should Cincinnati hire police officers from Cleveland to beef up its police force? Please respond in 100 words or less. Include your name, daytime telephone number and community. Send responses to Editorial Page, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH, 45202. E-mail: letters@enquirer.com or fax (513) 768-8610.

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