Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Police union willing to bend in racial profiling lawsuit

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ACLU attorney Scott Greenwood and FOP president Keith Fangman debate racial profiling on WLW Monday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        The leader of Cincinnati's police union said Monday the group would not oppose a system of collecting racial information during traffic stops, as long as it is fair and relatively simple.

        Such data collection is among the things to be sought by the American Civil Liberties Union in a racial profiling lawsuit being prepared by its attorneys and local lawyer Ken Lawson. The civil-rights organization, in other cities, has sued to force officers to log the ethnic background of every driver stopped.

        The suit will contend racial profiling exists in the city, meaning African-Americans are targeted for police stops based solely on their skin color. Police deny that.

        Monday night, the Fraternal Order of Police executive board decided members are “open to reviewing and offering an opinion on” any ACLU proposal to collect information about the race of drivers in traffic stops that do not result in citations. Now, a driver's race is recorded only if he or she gets a ticket or is arrested.

        “I think there's some ability to take a look at the issue and possibly compromise,” said Keith Fangman, president of the FOP's Queen City Lodge. “I think we, as a police agency, would be hard-pressed not to do something like that.”

        He and ACLU General Counsel Scott Greenwood talked for almost two hours about racial profiling Monday in a radio debate on LW-AM (700). Mr. Fangman said his thoughts about compromise — a somewhat softer approach than before — came about after hearing that Mr. Greenwood was not seeking an elaborate system that would take too much of an officer's time. He said the change also shows that the FOP is open-minded and has nothing to hide.

        The city's Safety Department has been at work on a plan to log the race data. And some officials around City Hall have been talking about a process, Mr. Fangman said, that could require officers to write narratives about everything from why they stopped a car to whether they searched it and why. That would be unrealistic and un reasonable, he said. Mr. Greenwood agreed.

        FOP board members, though open to a possible compromise, remained concerned that collecting the data would have negative effects on policing in Cincinnati, Mr. Fangman said. Among them: unfair targeting of officers who work in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and therefore interact with mostly black people; and fewer verbal warnings. Officers who feel they are being scrutinized, he said, likely will write more tickets to make sure their actions are justified.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of Cincinnati Black United Front, welcomed the FOP approach. “It's a good start in finding out how endemic racial profiling is in the city of Cincinnati,” he said.

        Enquirer reporter Marie McCain contributed to this story.


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