Monday, December 03, 2001

Profiling mediators to vote on goals

Plan for avoiding bias to be formulated

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        More than 3,500 Greater Cincinnatians have participated in the eight-month process of mediating a racial profiling lawsuit against the city. On Wednesday, the mediation enters a new phase.

Complete coverage in our special section.
        That's when 80 people who have already spent hours filling out surveys, meeting in small groups and articulating their best ideas to improve police-community relations will vote on a single set of goals.

        They'll rank key principles that mediation participants kept reiterating, including:

        • Create better problem-solving partnerships be tween police and community members.

        • Ensure equal, fair and courteous treatment for all.

        • Develop greater understanding of police policies and procedures and support of officers.

        • Engender more citizen involvement in their communities.

        • Develop greater respect and trust between police and the community.

        Those goals — along with recommendations from a separate Justice Department investigation into the division, begun after the April riots — will shape a settlement for the federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU and black activists. It alleges decades of discrimination by Cincin nati police against African-Americans.

        “I'm very pleased with the progress so far,” said U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott, who has overseen the mediation since March. “I think that it's right on track. It's exactly what I hoped it would be when we started.”

        Participants, however, have mixed feelings about whether the mediation will begin to solve such deep-seated problems.

        Braxton Cann, a 44-year-old systems analyst for Fifth Third Bank, said he doesn't think much will ultimately change.

        “I still believe in some of the ideals but I don't see people learning from experiences,” said Mr. Cann, of Over-the-Rhine. “It's very disappointing.”

        Michael Fisher, president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, said he thought it incredible that such a diverse mix of people participated and that the ideas they shared were so similar.

        “It gives me hope and encouragement that there is common ground to build on,” Mr. Fisher said.

Trust and respect

               In fact, many hope the unprecedented approach the city has taken to remedy years of racial tension will become a model for other cities.

        Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, was one of the parties who filed the lawsuit.

        “It's not impossible,” Mr. Greenwood said of a settlement. “We're probably all more optimistic now than we were at the outset.”

        Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman said he is optimistic.

        “We're hopeful that a constructive agreement can be reached that will help improve the trust level between the police and the community,” he said. “Trust and respect are a two-way street and everybody needs to be willing to work at improving that.”

        Since the lawsuit was filed, Jay Rothman, president of Aria Group, a Yellow Springs-based conflict resolution firm, and his colleagues have solicited 3,514 surveys from citizens on how the police and public can improve their relationship.

        Mr. Rothman will begin drafting the 50- to 60-page settlement document in the next few weeks.

        The mediation is one of several efforts to improve race relations in Cincinnati. Others are Mayor Charlie Luken's Cincinnati Community Action Now commission; Study Circles, sponsored by the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, and Neighbor to Neighbor, sponsored by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

        The parties will begin indirect negotiations as early as mid-January and will be sitting at the bargaining table sometime in February, Mr. Rothman said.

Finding solutions

               But moving from broad principles to practical solutions is what Mr. Rothman must do next with the help of John Eck, a criminal justice professor at the University of Cincinnati.

        Dr. Eck has been researching the nation's best police practices for months and has been develop ing a monitoring program that the city and police division could use to gauge progress.

        Mr. Rothman will start with a principle such as this: “Police officers and community members will become proactive partners in community problem-solving.”

        Then he'll search for ideas from citizen surveys on how to accomplish that and consult Dr. Eck to make sure the ideas have been effective in other cities.

        “Now we are moving from good ideas to reality-tested, proven practices,” Mr. Rothman said.

        For each principle there will be a series of action plans that outline specific programs and ways to implement them. Parties in the lawsuit will then debate the specifics of those plans.

        Mr. Rothman expects tough negotiating on the details, but remains optimistic.

        “The quote from Mark Twain that he'd like to be in Cincinnati when the world ends since everything happens 10 years late in this city may be reversed,” Mr. Rothman said. “Cincinnati may well be years ahead in forging a peaceful path to peace.

        “We need it now more than ever.”


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