Wednesday, July 10, 1996
Councilmen handcuffing the police

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati police just wanted to form a committee to talk with kids about life in the city.

Much to the cops' surprise, city leaders told them to forget it.

The Youth Advisory Council, consisting of 12-15 ordinary teen-agers, would meet once a month with the chief of police. They would be drawn from youth groups meeting weekly in each of the city's five police districts.

Councilman Phil Heimlich called it ''a feel-good solution.'' It doesn't fit his idea of a society where ''adults set the rules and kids follow them.''

Vice Mayor Tyrone Yates considered it another instance where kids ''suffer from too much democracy.''

These discouraging words came from members of the same city council that sets up a citizen's review board every time someone cries ''police brutality.'' Yet, when the police try to establish a similar panel of non-voting-age citizens before problems occur, councilmen shoot it down. And they do it with minds that are made up - without extensive debate.

Their opposition in meetings last week baffled the chief.

''They came at us from all sides,'' Chief Michael Snowden said. ''We weren't expecting that.''

The councilman known for tough talk on crime and the vice mayor are against something that would cost the city virtually nothing. For the price of a few soft drinks, the Youth Advisory Council would have plenty of payback. If it's handled properly.

With open minds and ears on both sides, a youth council could improve relations between the cops on the beat and the people on the street.

'We need to hear from them'

Cops are no different from anybody else. They hate meetings, too. But the potential for a regularly scheduled give-and-take session with a panel of teens makes sense to Sgt. Glenn Cox of District 3.

''Information is always good,'' he says. ''As long as the kids are giving you good stuff and not bull, these youth councils - especially the ones working on the district level with officers on the street - would have some pluses.''

The youth council's members would not have to be Eagle Scouts, student-body presidents or aspiring law enforcement officers.

They could be regular kids knowing what life's like in their neighborhood and not afraid of telling the police what they think.

''They think differently than we did when we were in school,'' Chief Snowden says. ''They're more street-smart than we ever were. We need to hear from them.''

That's why, the chief insists, city council has not heard the last of this proposal. When council returns from its summer vacation, he plans to be back. ''We must continue to pursue this.''

Sage advice

A youth council would give the city's teen-agers something they don't have now: a voice. In their future. In their lives. In the community.

''The police serve a variety of different customers,'' Chief Snowden explains. ''The youth of this city are one of our biggest customers. With youth crime and gang violence exploding, we do a lot of business with them. Yet, we get no input from them. This would be our chance to talk with them about their needs and how we're serving them.''

This is no feel-good solution. The cops aren't giving away the keys to their cruisers. ''They're going to give us advice,'' the chief says. ''But, we're still going to make the rules. And enforce them.''

What would they talk about?

Enforcing the curfew. The Pharon Crosby incident. The Pepsi Jammin' On Main riot. Gangs. Drugs and violence in Over-the-Rhine and Corryville. Rock bands.

Rock bands?

''We're police,'' Assistant Chief Ted Schoch says. ''We don't know about rock bands. Kids do. They could tell us what to expect at a concert. If we hear what they have to say and act on it, we could head off what we had at Jammin' On Main.

''This won't be a tiptoe through the tulips,'' he adds. ''You gotta start somewhere. You're missing something if you don't listen.''

Here's hoping they hear that at City Hall.

Cliff Radel's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.