Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Outside lawyers in police discipline cases proposed

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Council members today will call for outside lawyers to replace city solicitors on police discipline cases.

        Citing the city's failure to win a single arbitration case against a police officer fired for misconduct in the last five years, they are also demanding that the legal department not be given any extra money to hire the lawyers.

        “This needs to be done within their existing budget,” said Councilman John Cranley, who is pushing for the change with Councilman Pat DeWine. “This is a genuine attempt to respond to the citizens No. 1 biggest complaint: That is, you better get rid of bad cops.”

        They say the law department's failure to win a case against officers who have shown up for assignments drunk, been accused of asking women for sex, mishandling weapons and using excessive force during arrests has contributed to the community's loss of confidence in the police department.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said Tuesday that he supports the motion and agrees the law department should not be given any more money to fix the problem.

        “I don't know if the law department has failed to do its job,” he said. “I just know the results are unacceptable.”

        Deputy City Solicitor Robert Johnstone said he would welcome outside help in handling arbitration cases, but disputes suggestions that the law department hasn't done its job.

        “I strongly disagree that we haven't arbitrated cases well,” he said. “The general practice has been that lawyers weren't even involved in the cases until after discipline was imposed and the grievance was filed.”

        Since 1996, 10 police officers have fought termination, and an outside arbitrator ruled against the city every time.

        For about seven years, when city officials pushed for arbitration, contracts have given police officers the option of taking grievances to an independent arbitrator. Mr. Johnstone acknowledged more cooperation is needed between the police, personnel and law departments on police discipline.

        Other problems, he said, involve arbitrators who refuse to rule against the police and the fact that there is no way to challenge an arbitrator's binding decision.

        But Mr. DeWine said the problems also involve the city's failure to mete out consistent discipline and the law department's inability to make a case.

        “We can't continue to have the one percent of bad officers out there besmirch the reputation of the entire department,” he said. “We at least owe it to the citizens to compare what services we can get from an outside attorney.”

        City Manager John Shirey said Tuesday the motion is unnecessary because he was already considering hiring an outside lawyer.

        “It's a decision I can make on my own,” he said, adding that whether the law department gets more money would be up to council. “It's going to be considerably more expensive, but the extra cost would be worth it if we upped our percentage.”

        Mr. Shirey said he was waiting to act until after public hearings on racial profiling ended, assuming council members would make several policy changes about police conduct and discipline.

        Mr. Cranley, who chairs the city's law committee and has called for a new ordinance prohibiting officers from stopping citizens based on race, said the city can't afford to wait. “The police chief and the community clearly agree there is a problem,” he said. “We need to do something about it.”


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