Friday, March 19, 1999

City needs 7 cop-watchers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For well over a month now, City Hall has been looking for seven good people. The city needs seven civic-spirited, fair-minded citizens to staff the Citizens Police Review Panel.

        Some may see membership on such a panel as a thankless task. I think it is a chance to perform a great service to our city.

        The review panel will look into allegations of police wrongdoing. It has the power to take citizens' complaints, direct them to the proper investigator and then review the results of any investigation.

        If the panel's membership reflects the city's racial and social profile and its findings are reasoned and fair, relations can improve between the police and the community. The review panel is not a mouthpiece for the city or the police. This is a panel of citizens. They speak for us. All of us.

        City council created the panel in the wake of the shooting of Lorenzo Collins. He was the escaped, brick-wielding psychiatric patient surrounded by police and shot to death in 1997.

        Two years ago, the Collins shooting was a burning issue. For months, hundreds of demonstrators periodically took to the streets. Anti-cop protesters carried empty coffins around town and marched on City Hall. Crowds of police supporters also paid a visit to city council's fortresslike home.

        Two years later, the flames from this burning issue have dimmed. But the review panel is still viewed as a way to show the community that investigations of alleged police misconduct can be thorough and fair.

        When city hall put out the call for panel candidates, only 24 people applied by the March 15 deadline. Where have all the marchers gone?

        Hoping for more candidates, City Manager John Shirey extended the application deadline this week to April 19. By law, he gets to choose who's on the panel. He wants to make his picks from the largest, most representative pool of candidates possible.

        The requirements for being on the panel are few, the rewards fair, the demands extensive.

        But the service that can be provided to our city is, as the credit-card commercial says, priceless.

Simple requirements
        Application to the panel is a no-muss, no-fuss operation.

        The basic requirements: Live in Cincinnati. Be 18 or older. Agree to a background check.

        The process: Write a letter explaining why you want the job. Submit a resume. Have two people put together letters of recommendation. Mail everything to Cincinnati Citizens Police Review Panel, Box 14359, Cincinnati 45250.

        I've filled out sweepstakes entry forms from Dick Clark and Ed McMahon that wanted more information. And Dick and Ed never paid me what members of the review panel are going to make.

        Panelists get $100 per meeting. The head of the group pulls down an extra $25 when the panel meets.

Qualities wanted
        I think the panel is a good idea, but its success will depend on having the right kind of people as members.

        If I were John Shirey, I'd select independent thinkers. This committee will have to sort out conflicting opinions and contradictory versions of the truth. It needs people who can make up their own minds, not have others make them up for them.

        Activists with axes to grind would be excluded. They come with a cause. This panel is about seeking the truth.

        The panel needs people who can separate fact from fiction, ask pointed questions and get specific answers.

        Minorities are a must. Whether a panelist's minority status comes from race, gender or sexual orientation, the public needs to know someone who views society from the outside looking in has a voice on this panel.

        Street-wise people, people who know the turf cops patrol and the people they encounter, are welcome.

        Another key qualification for the right kind of candidate would be a deep-seated belief that they can make a difference. A belief that by giving all sides a fair hearing, this panel can help unite our city.

        Sound like you? I know there are many of you out there. Here's your chance to make a difference.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.