Thursday, September 28, 2000

Relations with police hashed

Large panel hoping for frank talk, ideas

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A new group of Cincinnati heavy hitters promises honest talk about one of the city's most controversial issues — the way people and police get along.

        Prompted by what they see as a long history of police-community relations problems, members of the Chairman's Roundtable on Public Safety plan to suggest by December steps the city can take to alleviate tension.

        And they will succeed where other efforts have failed, they say, because they represent dozens of diverse Greater Cincinnati institutions, groups never before brought to such a discussion.

        Among the members: the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Price Hill Civic Club, Police Chief Tom Streicher and Stonewall Cincinnati, the city's gay and lesbian advo cacy group. Sixty people make up the panel, but even more called to volunteer.

        “There is an expectation that something is going to happen this time,” said Harold Cleveland, president of Cincinnati Union Bethel, a social service agency. “We're going to look at everything with blinders off.”

        A variety of race- and police-related issues will be tackled, said City Councilman Charlie Winburn, including the closing of streets during downtown festivals, alleged racial profiling by police officers, and picketing of restaurants that closed during this summer's Ujima festival.

        “This is a serious group,” he said. “And I think we're on to something.”

        Roots of the panel date back to January, when Mr. Winburn and Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman started talking about how the problems and perceptions should be approached.

        They decided that the best way was to assemble a big, but manageable, group of major players, emphasize frank talk and let them brainstorm.

        The result, they hope, could be a model for other cities.

        The members, all volunteers, have had two meetings and are committed to five more by early December. “It's not that we all don't have enough to do,” said Jenny Laster, who facilitates the group's meetings. “But this is how committed we are to this. This needs to happen.”


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