Thursday, June 24, 1999

Panel to review police conduct

Seven citizens will look into misconduct reports

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a move to improve police-community relations, City Manager John Shirey named a seven-member citizens panel Wednesday to review investigations of police misconduct.

        The panelists are a retired secretary, two lawyers, a doctor, a minister, a mental health executive and a social worker.

  City Manager John Shirey appointed seven members of the new panel Wednesday:
  • Laura Banks, Evanston. Retired secretary at St. Mark School. Volunteers at St. Mark and St. Francis DeSales schools. Member, Evanston Community Council.
  • Keith L. Borders, Paddock Hills. Senior attorney, law department, LensCrafters Inc. Former trial attorney, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, and assistant counsel, Federated Department Stores. Member, Paddock Hills Assembly Board of Trustees.
  • Dr. Walter Bowers II, Clifton. Physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in private practice. Numerous community organization affiliations.
  • Paul M. DeMarco, Mount Washington. Attorney, Waite, Schneider, Bayless and Chesley. Founder of the Collaborative Law Center, which fosters dispute resolution without litigation.
  • Rev. Paula M. Jackson, Paddock Hills. Rector of the Church of Our Savior, an Episcopal church in Mt. Auburn. Community involvement with Baptist Ministers Conference.
  • Nancy J. Minson, Walnut Hills. Executive director, Mental Health Association of the Cincinnati Area and co-chair of the Mental Health Subcommittee of the Community/Police Relations Roundtable. Numerous community affiliations.
  • Steven Tutt, Price Hill. Program coordinator, Every Child Succeeds program, Clermont County.
        Dr. Walter Bowers II, a physician from Clifton, wanted to join the panel to build community trust.

        “What it will add is people who have no agenda, at least no hidden agenda,” he said.

        Allegations of wrongdoing already are subject to investigations by the police division's internal affairs department and the city's investigative arm, the Office of Municipal Investigations.

        But a Justice Department mediator recommended a civilian watchdog following the 1997 shooting of Lorenzo Collins, an escaped mental patient who charged police carrying a brick. His death ignited protests by African-American groups and advocates for the mentally ill.

        Over the opposition of the police union, council created the panel. Mr. Shirey appointed panelists to three-year terms and will pay them $100 per meeting.

        The board will hold public hearings but will be allowed to interview some witnesses, such as police officers, in private session. It may ask city council to issue subpoenas.

        The panel has no disciplinary power but will issue public reports, give advice and make recommendations to the city manager regarding thoroughness, accuracy, credibility and impartiality of other investigations. Its findings on individual cases will be made public.

        Panelists will undergo sever al weeks of training before beginning their work.

        “It's an advisory body to me,” Mr. Shirey said. “It does not make separate investigations. I don't see it as an added layer. I see it as an opening of the process. I think they add credibility.”

        Mr. Shirey said he screened 130 applicants with an eye for people with a variety of interests and backgrounds. His office would not provide a list of people who were not selected.

        “We picked the seven best people,” Mr. Shirey said.

        One supporter of the review idea questioned the range of the panelists.

        “The one thing I would like to have seen was more of a grass-roots type of person, maybe somebody that lives in Over-the-Rhine,” said police Spc. Cecil Thomas, president of the Sentinel Police Association of about 250 black officers. “What that brings is someone who lives in that area and has positive and negative interaction with police.”

        Those who were selected say they just wanted other voices to be heard.

        “Everyone that I've spoken to has told me that I'm crazy to do it,” said panelist Steven Tutt of Price Hill, who sees himself as the voice of the common man. “I'm a social worker with a strong civic conscience.”

        Nancy Minson, executive director of the local Mental Health Association, said she is a “bargain” panelist.

        “I consider myself a representative of many constituents,” she said. “I'm a representative of the women's community, the Jewish community, the gay community — although I'm not gay, I'm on the Stonewall board. And although I'm not African-American, I'm a life member of the NAACP.”

        She also has been involved in police training in mental health issues and says she sees a civic duty to serve on the board.

        All the panelists wrote letters of application, presented resumes and letters of recommendation and under went background checks.

        Forming a board means Cincinnati will join at least 38 of the 50 largest U.S. cities that have some form of civilian review.

        Proponents say such boards take the secrecy out of investigations into police misconduct. Critics say police already have enough reviews to police themselves.

        Keith Fangman, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police union, has criticized the concept since its inception.

        He is still bitter over the Collins investigation, which put a Cincinnati officer through all of the city reviews, an FBI probe and a Justice Department investigation. The officer was cleared in each one.

        “Although the FOP members feel that this is more bureaucracy and redundant, if it improves police-community relations, that's a positive, and we hope that happens,” he said.

        “But if this turns out to be some sort of Star Chamber for groups to get their pound of flesh, then it's going to be a disaster.”

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