Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Smitherman: Let's keep
federal oversight of police

By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer

Councilman Christopher Smitherman has asked Mayor Charlie Luken to rescind his request for the U.S. Department of Justice to end its oversight of the city's Police Department.

In a letter sent to the mayor Monday, Smitherman told Luken that the city needed to "stay the course to which we all agreed." Smitherman said Luken was threatening to "unnecessarily reopen wounds" by trying to end the city's agreement with the Department of Justice to reform the Cincinnati Police Department after just two years.

"I have no idea why the mayor triggered this at this time," Smitherman said. "We need collaboration right now more than anything.

"People in the African-American community have a lot of hope that things are going to get better through this process," he said. "This is the wrong time and the wrong place to say we don't want to have the (agreement) in place."

The settlement consists of two separate agreements: a deal between the Justice Department and the city to reform the police department and a "collaborative agreement" dedicated to improving the relationship between police and African-Americans.

In the Justice Department agreement, the city promised to change the way police officers do their jobs, from training policies to the use of physical force to the way supervisors track employee performance.

The terms of the settlement are supposed to last five years and can be lifted early only with the permission of U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott.

Luken sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft on Oct. 5 stating that the city's police department had made major improvements and no longer needed the Department of Justice to oversee the reforms it began after the riots of 2001. Luken said police officers and supervisors had achieved "outstanding results" and should be allowed to run the department as they see fit.

Smitherman said highlighting improvements in canine bite ratios and boasting about a 2 percent decline in citizen police complaints is not a performance level that justifies ending the agreement three years early.

"May I remind you that under the watch of the (Justice Department), Mr. Nathaniel Jones Jr. died of positional asphyxiation ... while in police custody?" Smitherman wrote.

Luken did not back down, saying he was glad that Smitherman "has finally recognized that the DOJ agreement exists."

"I don't think he has looked carefully at what the city has accomplished," Luken said.

"We have accomplished the goals of the collaborative and we should be permitted to get out of DOJ oversight," he said. "We have done what we said we were going to do. It is time for the Department of Justice to go home."

E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com

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