Monday, November 19, 2001

Group ready to advise police


Study Circles queried citizens, officers

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Greater Cincinnati Study Circles Sunday said it has developed a plan to improve police-community relations after meetings that included hundreds of citizens and police officers.

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        After months of sharing ideas and opinions, local participants in Study Circles — a nationally recognized community action program based in Pomfret, Conn. — homed in on four “action themes.”

        They will be a guide to developing programs to address neighborhood policing issues in the wake of the April riots and racial strife that has enveloped Cincin nati.

        The themes:

        • Education and training

        • Policy and procedure reform

        • Community and police partnerships

        • Community initiatives.

        Specific goals include: creating a strong lobbying group to change Cincinnati Police Division policies and procedures, improving the citizen complaint process and finding alternatives to the use of lethal force by police officers.

        Study Circles is one of a handful of initiatives — community and government- based — working to heal the city. They range from a mediation process overseen by a federal judge, to the mayor's Cincinnati CAN commission to The Enquirer's Neighbor-to-Neighbor program.

        Study Circles' themes were introduced Sunday dur ing a forum at the YMCA in Walnut Hills attended by about 100 people.

        “We've had some very frank discussions leading up to this point,” said Eric Johnson, an Oakley resident and Study Circles participant. “I have been part of those discussions because I could no longer just disregard issues

        in the city and not take action.”

        The first phase of Study Circles brought together 228 civilians and 38 Cincinnati patrol officers in groups of a dozen or so, for five two-hour sessions that were moderated by a trained facilitator.

        The Cincinnati Human Relations Commission launched the project in July in response to the three days of rioting in April that followed the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

        Unlike other post-riot initiatives, Study Circles had at least one patrol officer as an active participant in each of 18 individual group sessions, held in different neighborhoods throughout Greater Cincinnati.

        Cincinnati Police Sgt. Steve Saunders said he relished the opportunity to participate in the program because he was able to show his group that although he's a police officer, he's also a citizen with a family.

        He said he also had an opportunity to dispel miscon ceptions that have led to negative stereotypes of police officers and their jobs.

        “My hope is that what comes out of this is that people learn to treat each individual police officer as a person,” Sgt. Saunders said.

        He said Study Circles opened his and other officers' eyes to concerns in many Cincinnati neighborhoods: “We're getting answers to some of our own questions.”

        The next step for Study Circles' participants and organizers is to take what they've learned in the group sessions and put the ideas into action. The second phase of the initiative begins Feb. 16.

        The program is still seeking the active participation of community residents and police to accomplish that task. One of Study Circles' goals under its Education and Training action theme is to "host more study circle orientations to recruit diverse participants.”

        People interested in joining Study Circles can call (513) 352-3237.

       



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