Tuesday, May 01, 2001

City poised to vote on profiling remedy




By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        City officials are one step away from starting a community discussion on racial profiling. A Wednesday vote would end a federal lawsuit that claims Cincinnati police harass black people because of the color of their skin.

        The deal up for vote would have a mediator help lawyers craft a proposed settlement that could initiate new social programs and change police policies.

        It was forwarded to council Monday without recommendation after three hours of debate in council's law committee, where a few main issues emerged: the openness of the process; the reason for going through it

        under court order; and the cost to the city.

        If approved, the initial mediation would cost the city $100,000. But new programs, attorney fees and training could end up costing millions.

        Under the proposal:

        • The mediator would talk to several groups about conflicts between police and minorities and how to resolve them. The groups include: minorities, city officials, police administration, line officers and their families, business leaders, religious leaders, social service providers, media, community councils and youth.

        • Each group would, in public, produce summaries of their discussion. The groups will have four to six months to complete the work.

        • A panel of national experts would review the current practices of Cincinnati police and similar practices in other communities. The panel will make recommendations.

        • Lawyers would then negotiate a proposed settlement to the lawsuit, which would have to be approved by council.

        Councilmen Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine argued Monday that the proposal as initially written didn't require mediator Jay Rothman, of ARIA Group Inc., to release all the information gathered during group discussions.

        The proposal was revised on the spot to say that transcripts of the initial group meetings will be released to the public, with only the names of individuals withheld.

        Mr. Rothman said keeping the names under seal is crucial — particularly in the case of line police officers whose comments might upset their commanders.

        “People have to feel free to say whatever they please,” Mr. Rothman said. “We're dealing with volatile issues and people putting their professional lives on the line.”

        Mr. Heimlich said the mediation is a great process, but he doesn't think it should happen in the context of the lawsuit, which he believes the city would win. The city has denied the racial profiling allegations in the suit.

        Mr. Heimlich also said there will be tremendous pressure on council to pass any recommended settlement that comes out of the process. And even if the settlement is approved, there are still eight individual lawsuits, filed by attorney Ken Lawson, seeking money from the city.

        “This is the worst of all worlds — we could end up spending millions to settle, and still have eight cases handled separately,” Mr. Heimlich said.

        Mr. Heimlich and Mr. DeWine voted against the proposal. Councilmen John Cranley and Paul Booth voted to approve it. Councilman Jim Tarbell abstained.

        Lawyer Alphonse Gerhardstein, who represents the plaintiffs, said he'll be happy to go to trial.

        “We're ready to get it on in court, if that's what council wants,” he said. “But we want to open it up to a lot of people who wouldn't normally be in this lawsuit. It's a communitywide problem.”

       



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