Wednesday, June 09, 1999

Thanks, but police courtesy can come cheap

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sometime next week, Cincinnati's Police Division will officially be $800,412 richer.

        Say thanks for the gift to Uncle Sam and the contributions we make to the Internal Revenue Service.

        The money comes from a federal Local Law Enforcement Block Grant. The paperwork is expected to come through next week authorizing the city to start spending the money.

        Uncle Sam's funds — our tax dollars — are earmarked for fighting the war on crime. Some of the money will go to lock up crack dealers. Other monies will put the brakes on car thieves. Still others will help collect information on kid crooks.

        Those programs will cost $200,000, $192,000 and $100,000, respectively.

        Another program in the grant costs a mere $20,000. Those dollars are for establishing a pilot program for police courtesy training.

        The courtesy program caught my eye. I imagined Cincinnati cops standing at attention as they practiced saying “please” and “thank you” and “have a nice day.”

        Trying to fathom how to spend $20,000 developing a course for teaching courtesy to cops — or any group of grown-ups — led me to write this “Follow-our-Money” column. It's part of a series of columns I am doing in 1999 tracking what local, state and federal money spenders do with our tax dollars.

        Pardon me, but the way I see it, the courtesy program is an example of bad manners. It is discourteous to ask for money without having a solid plan how to spend it.

Be nice
        The idea for the police courtesy training program originated with Safety Director Kent Ryan. His idea was well-founded. But his research and planning skills need tuning.

        The safety director told me that the complaints he hears most oftenabout the police are:

        “I have not been treated with respect.” And ... “The police could have been nicer.”

        Mr. Ryan sees courtesy “as a positive tool for police officers. Approach someone with a smile and say hello. Usually, they'll smile back and greet you. If they are not returned in kind, then your sense of danger will be ratcheted up.”

        Courtesy as an early warning system. So far, so good.

        At the safety director's urging, the police courtesy training program was put into the federal grant request. News of the request's approval surfaced in May. The funds are in the bank. But plans for the $20,000 police courtesy training pilot project are nowhere.

        “We don't have the program sketched out,” the safety director said. “We still have a lot of talking to do internally. There is some research out there about the positive effects courtesy has on policing. We're going to have to access some of that.”

        While he's in an accessing mood, the safety director might place a call to Phil Hackett. Phil is the principal at E.H. Greene Intermediate School in Blue Ash. He designed an award-winning project to teach courteous behavior to students at his school. And the cost of his program was nowhere near $20,000.

Call Phil
        Phil's 4-year-old program, “Better All Together — Discipline with Dignity and Respect,” came out of a discussion he had with fellow principals in Washington, D.C. He was in town to pick up a National Distinguished Principal Award.

        Taxpayer dollars paid for Phil's Washington trip. It cost around $600.

        “But I didn't spend anything on developing the program,” he told me.

        The courtesy program includes a variety of exercises. His students do them at the start of every day. The police could do them at roll call.

        One exercise develops greeting skills. “Make sure you have excellent eye contact. Make a nice smile. And, with a good tone in your voice, say hello.”

        Phil told me his exercises are adaptable for adults. He added that he's more than willing to share what he has learned about teaching courtesy with the Cincinnati police.

        All it will cost is just one word. The police have to say: Thanks.

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

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