Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Community searches for new direction

'Solutions do exist,' participants hear, but change won't be easy

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Adopting one or two promising practices or innovative programs won'tlead to sustained improvement in police-community relations.

        That was the message delivered Tuesday to a gathering of more than 75 community leaders, advocates and law-enforcement representatives at the Cincinnati State Technical and Community College Conference Center.

[photo] Cincinnati CAN members Elaine Hardy (left) representing the Urban League and Paula Long, of Procter & Gamble, talk before Tuesday's forum.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        The leaders convened for a forum, “From Protest to Proposal,” to discuss the longstanding divide between law enforcement and the African-American community in Cincinnati.

        The purpose of the forum was to figure out where Cincinnati wants to go following days of civil unrest triggered by the shooting death of Timothy Thomas, and how to get there by listening to cities that have already gone through police department reform. Mr. Thomas, an unarmed African-American, was shot April 7 by a white police officer. “There is no utopia of police-community relations out there, but some solutions do exist,” Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell told the gathering. “There are some cities and departments out there doing it right. It's up to us to take what those individual cities and departments are doing right and make our own patchwork quilt.”

        The forum, co-sponsored by Cincinnati Community Action Now, centered on a new report prepared by PolicyLink — a nonprofit advocacy group based in Oakland, Calif.

        The report, “Community-Centered Policing: A Force for Change,” urges police departments to rethink a lot of their methods with more attention to how they affect the community.

[photo] Susan Bolich, of the Children's Defense Fund, puts notes from the group's discussion on display during Tuesday's Cincinnati CAN forum at Cincinnati State.
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        “It's not enough to employ more officers, increase minorities or establish a police oversight committee,” said Maya Harris West, principal author of the report. “You have to do all that and more. You cannot approach police reform in a piecemeal fashion because one or two new programs won't get it done.”

        “You can expect that your patience, persistence and perseverance will be attacked when you try to bring about these types of changes,” said guest speaker Howard Saffold, a former Chicago police officer and CEO of Positive Anti-Crime Thrust Inc.

        Mr. Saffold's organization was among the first in the nation to embrace the concept that police should be held accountable by community standards and a citizen-based oversight committee.

        Cincinnatians who attended the forum complained the city's police review panel is too weak, most citizens don't feel their complaints will be effectively addressed, that city officials have too difficult a time disciplining police officers and that not enough public information is shared about police disciplinary actions or departmental programs and procedures.

        Among the strategies and solutions the group recommended to help deal with these problems were:

        • Make a commitment to community-centered policing and engage communities as partners in the law enforcement process.

        • Revamp or eliminate a civil-service system that prohibits the city from hiring police chiefs from outside the city and limits recruiting and promotional opportunities.

        • Develop a vehicle to track and then make available to the public information on police disciplinary actions, programs and procedures.

        • Recruit officers from the east side as well as the west side.

        • Provide culture-based training for officers, such as diversity and anti-racism classes, and examine police-academy curriculum.

        “I think a lot of good information was passed to both police and the people in attendance,” said the Rev. Eugene Godhigh, pastor of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church. "If you take some of the police-community initiatives presented here today and find ways to implement them, I think it will solve some of the problems. But I think it is evident that there will be some resistance to such changes by the higher-ups.”

        But at least one top-ranking Cincinnati police official said he has an open mind.

        “These types of (forums) are healthy,” said Lt. Col. Ron Twitty. "I don't mind taking my whoopin'. Everything should be negotiable. We should never say you can't do this or you can't do that.”

        Among those in attendance at the forum were: Cincinnati Community Action Now members Sheila Adams, Ross Love, Damon Lynch III and Eileen Cooper Reed. Others at the forum included Cincinnati Human Relations Commission Director Cecil Thomas and Lt. Howard Ratz, assistant director of the Cincinnati Police Academy.

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