Friday, April 02, 1999

Review panel would help if we had it now

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Once more in Cincinnati, distrust and accusations separate the community and the cops.

        Michael Carpenter is dead. Police bullets killed him in what officers contend was a justified use of force. The man's family and others in the community say police acted irresponsibly. There is anger, anguish and the gulf that is created when sides are drawn.

        This would be a fine time for the new seven-member Citizens Police Review Panel to be up and running. The shooting is just the kind of incident the panel is being created to review. The hope is that such a panel would untangle the conflicting views surrounding such an incident and help maintain positive relations between the cops and the community.

        But the establishment of the panel is still months away. Applicants' names and resumes are still being accepted. Two weeks ago when I wrote about the dearth of applicants for this crucial job, only 24 people had applied. This week, the city has 47 and hopes for more.

        Any city resident 18 and over has until April 19 to apply. Applications will be reviewed, background checks conducted. That's a detailed, time-consuming process.

        On Thursday, City Manager John Shirey told me he hopes to select the panel members by June. Months of training sessions and meetings to establish operating procedures would follow. The panel might be in business by the fall.

        Once set up, the panel would not replace existing city or police investigative units. Rather, the panel would review those official investigations to make sure they were fair. This is essentially a chance for citizens to look over the shoulders of city and police officials when controversy erupts.

The works
        The Carpenter case, in John Shirey's words, is “an excellent example where we all would benefit from having seven fresh sets of eyes — with open-minded points of view, no axes to grind — to review the matter, reach some conclusions and make recommendations to me.”

        The panel's job begins when any citizen files a complaint with the panel, or when the panel itself feels the situation warrants its attention. If an incident reaches the panel's attention, and no official investigation is underway, the panel can request an investigation from the city manager.

        After city officials complete their investigation, the panel reviews the findings. Members can pretty much go where they want and talk to anyone they need to talk with to reach their conclusions.

        It will be a tough, important job. And that's why John Shirey is looking for “objective people to sit on the panel as judges. They will have to have the ability to ask hard questions, not to put people on the spot, but to get information and get at the truth.”

Potential panelists
        Tom Williams and Diana Harris hope to serve on the panel. They called with an interest in joining the panel after my first column.

        He is a Methodist minister. She is a nurse. He lives in Clifton Heights. She resides in Sayler Park. Their careers introduced them to people on both sides of the law.

        “The panel's objectivity gives both sides the opportunity to get a fair deal,” the Rev. Mr. Williams said. “Only by working side by side can we get to know someone as a person and solve our city's problems.”

        Diana Harris wants to do more for her hometown than “pay taxes, crab about Cincinnati and go home.” She sees her skills as a nurse coming into play on the panel.

        “I'm trained to look at things from a neutral standpoint, to be a good listener and a good communicator. I ask questions and expect answers.”

        For Diana, serving on the panel is a matter of civic pride. “You only get out of your city what you are willing to invest in it.”

        There's still time to invest in the panel. Send a letter noting why you want the job, two letters of recommendation and a resume to: Cincinnati Citizens Police Review Panel, Box 14359, Cincinnati 45250.

        This is a chance to make a positive contribution to our community, to help the police and the people get to the bottom of controversial cases and to use the power of the truth to break down barriers of distrust.

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


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