Friday, November 09, 2001

Police watchdog quits post


Panel chair critical of Luken, city

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The chairman of Cincinnati's citizen police oversight board resigned Thursday, one day after Mayor Charlie Luken said he wanted the power to hire and fire members.

        Keith Borders said he is stepping down for personal reasons.

        But he criticized Mr. Luken for wanting greater control of the Citizens Police Review Panel.

        “The suggestion that he wants to control what the panel says or what the panel does is inappropriate,” said Mr. Borders, a lawyer who works for LensCrafters.

        Mr. Luken is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

        Mr. Borders is leaving before his first term expires, and he expects more members to resign soon.

        All seven members were appointed by City Manager John Shirey and report to his office.

        “I have significant cautions. This panel needs to have independent investigative authority, an independent staff and an independent budget,” Mr. Borders said. “Members have got to be free to speak. They need to be free of any retaliation from the mayor or any other city administrator.”

        Mr. Borders, who has been on the panel since it began three years ago, says its members have been fighting the administration for staff and money. They say the city manager has blocked their attempts to conduct investigations into police misconduct. The panel has also asked for subpoena power.

        “We have fought at every turn,” he said. “We have challenged reports and what appears to be biased decisions in favor of police officers.”

        City Manager John Shirey said Mr. Borders has been dedicated and hard working.

        “I am not reading anything into his resignation,” he said. “I hope to talk to him. I am grateful for his service.”

        All of the panel members were asked two months ago if they would like to continue serving when their terms expire, Mr. Shirey said. But Mr. Borders is the only one to respond either way.

        “I can say that Mr. Borders and all members of the panel have said to me that it is very time-consuming,” Mr. Shirey said.

        The panel is charged with reviewing investigations of police misconduct completed by the city's Office of Municipal Investigation and the police Internal Investigations Section.

        It also is supposed to receive a copy of all citizen complaints about police officers. But an Enquirer investigation recently revealed that hundreds of complaints were being filed every year by police officials without any outside review.

        The panel arose out of an agreement with federal mediators after the 1997 death of Lorenzo Collins, a mental patient who was shot and killed by police when he confronted officers with a brick.

        After being elected as strong mayor on Tuesday, Mr. Luken said he was disturbed by comments made by panel member Paul DeMarco. Mr. DeMarco said recent acquittals of police officers charged with crimes sent a message that it is OK for police officers to kill African-Americans.

        Mr. DeMarco said Thursday the mayor's comments were out of line.

        “I don't think it is ever irresponsible to speak out against injustice. Shame on any lawyer who doesn't speak out about injustice,” he said. “I defy anyone to show me how it would ever be possible for a Cincinnati police officer who killed a black man in the line of duty to ever be convicted of a crime.”

        Mr. DeMarco, who said he will remain on the panel, called Mr. Borders' resignation a loss for the city.

        “From the beginning, he has represented the conscience of the community in establishing a new day in which police officers are held accountable,” Mr. DeMarco said. “There aren't many people in public life who are willing to show that kind of courage.”

        Mr. Borders, an African-American, said many African-Americans distrust the police division. He said the panel can go a long way to fix that.

        But after three years, Mr. Borders said, the time commitment is too great and he wants to focus more on his family and career.

        “There is an opportunity for (the mayor) to appoint his own people,” Mr. Borders said. “It is my desire not to stand in his way.”

       



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