Sunday, December 03, 2000

A city divided

Two sides of two tragedies

        Once again, two black men have been killed in what reports call “police intervention deaths.” And once again, Cincinnati is torn by controversy over how to handle the investigations. The Enquirer Editorial Board invited representatives of the Citizens Police Review Panel and Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman to discuss police and community relations. Following are excerpts of the sometimes heated discussion about conflict in our community.

        Q. How do you define the problem of police and community relations?

FOP President Keith Fangman
CPRP member Paul M. De Marco: In the past there were instances of alleged police misconduct, but there was no civilian panel to review it. So a conclusion was reached to create our panel. After the Lorenzo Collins case (an escaped mental patient killed by police while wielding a brick) we all heard that there were seven unanimous reports all concluding the same way, but there was not sufficient public confidence. We were created to instill public confidence in the investigations of alleged police misconduct.

        We try to put ourselves in the position of a reasonable police officer. We recognize they have fear and pressure that none of us could cope with, but the public still has a right to a reasonable police officer. We ask, Did (the investigations) leave any stone unturned? If they did, that undermines public confidence.

        FOP President Keith Fangman: The FOP, myself and our members strongly support the concept of a civilian review entity. It would be ludicrous for police to oppose civilian review. It would give people the idea we were hiding something.

        The fact is, we're not perfect, we're not robots, we're not made of steel. We're flesh and blood and we make mistakes.

CPRP Chair Keith L. Borders
        We did express some strong reservations about the panel when it was created. In the case of a police intervention death, there is not one, not three, not five, but six separate independent investigations: by homicide; by OMI, which is civilians; by internal investigations; by the Hamilton County prosecutor; by the Citizens Police Advisory Commission that was created in 1975; and by the FBI.

        Then we were told we needed a seventh layer of review. And if it didn't rule the way some activists and City Hall protesters wanted it to be, there would be a hue and cry for another layer of review. There comes a point where police officers wonder. That's the frustration for the average officer, when he is thrust into a terrifying, life-and-death encounter and has to make a split-second decision and then be second-guessed.

        Now even the cheerleaders who created this panel — the city manager, safety director and some council members — are harshly critical of the panel for overstepping its bounds. It has gone from a review panel to becoming an investigating body.

        I don't think they can put themselves in the position of a police officer. They have never gone through a high-speed pursuit, or chased a suspect down a dark alley.

        Q. What's the role of your organization in these conflicts?

        Mr. Fangman: My primary responsibility is to my 1,000 fellow police officers, to be their voice as an advocate. I stand up and defend our officers — when they're right.

        Mr. De Marco: When we announced our report on the Michael Carpenter shooting, it took 45 minutes to read it, and 15 minutes to get to my car, and when I turned on the radio, there was Keith Fangman already on the radio criticizing our report. It's a 35-page report.

    • February 1997: Lorenzo Collins, an escaped mental patient, was shot and killed by police after he charged them with a brick. The incident led to the creation of the Citizens Police Review Panel.
    • March 1999: Michael Carpenter of Mount Airy was shot to death during a traffic stop in which Officers Brent McCurley and Michael Miller tried to pull him from his car.
    • November 1998: Officer Daniel Carder shot and paralyzed shoplifting suspect Timothy Blair, who tried to drive away while Officer Carder attempted to pull him from his vehicle.
    • Sept. 1, 2000: Officer Kevin Crayon, being dragged by a car driven by 12-year-old Courtney Mathis, shot and killed the driver before falling to his own death.
    • Nov. 7, 2000: Roger Owensby of College Hill, stopped by officers who suspected him in a previous crime, died of what the coroner called “mechanical asphyxia” after a struggle with five officers.
    • Nov. 8, 2000: Jeffrey Irons of Chicago, a shoplifting suspect, was shot and killed by police after a struggle in which Mr. Irons grabbed an officer's gun and shot another officer in the hand.

        CPRP member Rev. Paula M. Jackson: These investigations by other agencies are not always as independent as the city thinks they are. They are not always layer on layer. (County Prosecutor) Mike Allen provided a brief legal summary. Others then said, "based on the prosecutor's report.” OMI had no direct access to witnesses, so how can you call that an independent investigation? Many times it seems like, “If they said this, that's our report too.”

        CPRP Chair Keith L. Borders: I think pitting the FOP and CPRP against each other is a misalignment of our roles. When we get criticized, that means we're doing our job. We can't put ourselves in the body of an officer, (Mr. Fangman) is correct. But unlike doctors, who get their license from the state, police are given their authority from the community.

        Mr. Fangman: I did in fact review the Carpenter report. I was disturbed that it went much further than a review and violated the ordinance that created your panel. I was struck by the harsh criticism of officer Brent McCurley. I very much disagree with that.

        Since then we have had the death of Officer Kevin Crayon, who also reached into a car and was dragged. If he had survived, I daresay he would have been just as harshly criticized by your panel.

        Mr. De Marco: In the Carpenter case, the officer said the car was in reverse and moved 10 feet. That car was in drive, flush with the car in front. We concluded that was not credible and the investigation did not deserve public confidence.

        We said repeatedly that the city needss a policy on reaching into a car to remove a suspect and these things have been ignored by the safety director and the police chief. The city manager says they are still mad about our report and don't want to talk about it. For heaven's sake, there are lives at stake.

        If an investigation disregards what witnesses have said and takes as gospel what the polcie officer said, that's not good enough.

        Mr. Borders: Our analysis goes toward the investigation and the investigators, not the individual officers involved in a particular incident. We address protocal and practics, not pointing at individual cops. It goes to the culture of the police division.

        Q. How can the rest of us — media, citizens — help improve police community relations?

        Mr. Fangman: The FOP can allow investigations to play out. We have not made any specific comments about the latest incidents that are under investigation. People have called it racial profiling. That is just nonsense when there were black and white officers involved.

        I would encourage the review panel not to comment during investigations, but one of your members has already criticized the officers (in the Irons and Owensby cases) and called it a coverup. That is outrageous behavior. There is absolutely no reason to make that statement.

        Police work is not black and white, folks, it's 99 percent gray. You don't have time to get out the police manual, which is this thick, and follow it to the letter.

        The review panel has called for new policies, but policy needs to come from the safety director, the city manager or the police chief, not the FOP or CPRP.

        Mr. De Marco: We have not said what the policy should be. We're saying please, develop a policy.

        CPRP member Nancy J. Minson: I would like to see the media be more diligent in following up on recommendations from our reports, to ask, “Has anything happened?”

        Q. The issue that everyone is dancing around here is race. What can the city do now, after the recent deaths of Roger Owensby and Jeffrey Irons, to deal with that issue?

        Mr. Fangman: The media should strongly encourage leaders in the black communtiy to allow investigations to be finalized before making inflammatory statements, as the NAACP and Baptist Ministers did at a City Hall rally, saying the officers (in the Owensby and Irons cases) should be fired, prosecuted and put in jail. They are just whipping the black community into a frenzy with outright dangerous rehetoric, even by some members of council, Paul Booth and Minette Cooper.

        If the officers are found at fault, they are found at fault.

        As an officer who works in black neighborhoods, I am concerned about the mindset in the black community that it is automatically racially motivated.

        Council member Alicia Reese said 13 black males have been killed by police in the past four years, that there's a pattern. Let's look at the officers killed in the line of duty. Almost every one — 99 percent in the past 30 years has been killed by black males. Would it be fair for the FOP to say that means all black males want to kill cops? Of course not. That would be racist, unfair and ludicrous, just like saying the police are killing black males is unfair, racist and ludicrous.

        There is an epidemic of black-on-black violence, and the leaders never talk about it: 85 percent of homicides are black on black. Blacks make up 40 percent of the population in the city, but 76 percent of the rapes are by black males.

        The black community never wants to talk about black-on-black crime or police officers killed by black males. That's disheartening.

        Mr. De Marco: Race is the flash point and attention is properly paid to race, because what is done is being done under the color of law. The police chief has acknowledged there is racial profiling going on. That means we have officers under the color of law, making race-based decisions. As a community, we have to demand answers as to why officers believe this is permissible. Until we do, race will stay a flash point.

        Keith Borders has reached the same level of his profession that I have reached. But odds are, when he goes out he stands a better chance of being detained.

        Ms. Jackson: It doesn't help to take African-American leaders to task just for raising those issues.

        I know pastors who spend the majority of their time in churches addressing the question of black on black crime.

        Ms. Minson: It's not just police versus community. We live in a racist community, a segregated community, segregated by housing, socially and professionally in many ways.

        Mr. Borders: I hope you won't take this personally, Keith, but your comments are inflamatory. We've gotta go beyond that. I joined this panel to get beyond polarizing rhetoric.

        If police have the beliefs you articulate, you are not going to connect.

        Mr. Fangman: I have found as a white officer in black neighborhoods that the overwhelming majority are good, decent citizens who are sick and tired of the crime and they wonder why no one speaks out for them.

        Mr. Borders: The accusation that the African-American community doesn't look at these issues is wrong. It struggles every day with these issues.

        Mr. Fangman: I am a founding member of the Chairman's Roundtable on Public Safety. All ethnic groups, gays, Stonewall Cincinnati, the Baptist Ministers — 50 people get together to discuss racial profiling, police brutality and discourtesy by officers.

        Before the latest intervention deaths, we had an agreement that the next time it happened, we would all take a deep breath and there would be no accusations made until the investigation was complete.

        Then within 72 hours the same folks were saying the officers should be fired, prosecuted and imprisoned.

        Just as there is frustration in the community, there is an equally high degree of frustration in the police division.

        Mr. Borders: I have to urge you to reduce the rhetoric.

        Mr. Fangman: I would urge you do to the same.

        Ms. Minson: What went on here today is just a microcosm of what's going on in the community.


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