Sunday, December 31, 2000

Churches to focus on police-public issues

Clergy learning about what officers face

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's religious leaders have adopted improved police-community relations as a priority for next year and are beginning to plan ways to use their pulpits for change.

        “The polarization between the public and the police right now is very sad,” said Barbara Glueck, area director of the American Jewish Committee. “If any minority group feels put-upon, that's not a healthy atmosphere.”

        The religious representatives, from 16 denominations across the Tristate through the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati (MARCC), decided to start by learning more about the kinds of situations police officers face on Cincinnati's streets.

        They role-played with fake guns, pretended to be criminals and talked about things such as how many officers it takes to handcuff somebody who resists.

        The idea: learn more about how police work really works. They started with learning about arrests. Next month's topic is recruiting, and MARCC's annual meeting in February will be at the police division's training academy.

        “We're still feeling our way on this,” said the Rev. Duane Holm, MARCC director. “We've got a lot of learning to do.”

        The issue of relations between police and particularly the city's African-American community bubbles up off and on in Cincinnati. The latest flash point was the Nov. 7 death of Roger Owensby, a 29-year-old College Hill man who suffocated while officers were arresting him. A grand jury is investigating possible charges against some of the five officers involved.

        The death prompted a protest at City Hall and a boycott of downtown businesses. Police have repeatedly said Mr. Owensby was stopped because he was wanted for previously escaping arrest, not because he was black.

        The Rev. Holm said he senses that the police division is open to the clergy help. Chief Tom Streicher said he welcomes it. He said he and other police officials have discussed in the past how churches might be used in police/community relations.

        The Rev. Holm said he already has learned that an arrest “can be a messy, imprecise process.”

        “There's a high level of mistrust going both ways,” he said. “It's our problem and our opportunity.”


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