Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Police agree to make changes in procedures


In response to federal investigation

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati police agree with most of the U.S. Department of Justice's recommendations for change, responding to 91 points in a document released Monday.

THE RESPONSE
Complete text of the response can be found here
        The 26-page response letter came after months of negotiations between city and Justice officials over the federal agency's sweeping report last October that cited things from poor reporting procedures to the lack of an effective tracking system for badly behaving officers.

        The federal agency launched its review of the Cincinnati Police Department after the death of Timothy Thomas, the police shooting that sparked last April's protests and riots.

        Federal officials, however, have insisted from the start that they did not intend to be adversarial — a key difference from “patterns and practices” investigations in other cities.

        The police department's response was compiled by the city's high-powered Washington lawyer, Billy Martin, and hand-delivered Jan. 31 to Steven Rosenbaum, chief of the special litigation section of Justice's civil rights division. It was not made public, however, until Monday, when copies went to City Council members.

        Many of the police responses involve clarifying police terms and changing policies, such as explaining that suspects can be sprayed with chemical irritant if they become violent, no longer if they're only disorderly.

        Others promise more and different training — in use of chemical irritant, in supervisors' decisions on using canines and in low-light use of guns, for example.

        The department also promises to involve the community more, by distributing policy revisions to community councils for their review and by developing a Web site link that will allow citizens to e-mail complaints.

        “Our attorneys feel we have agreed with a large percentage of the recommendations,” said Mayor Charlie Luken, who requested the federal investigation. “There's nothing left that we can't work out.”

        Justice Department officials declined comment Monday on the report.

        But Mr. Martin said the response would lead to “meaningful change” in the relationship between police and the community.

        Angela Leisure, Mr. Thomas' mother, had not yet heard about the city's responses late Monday night. She said the citizens of Cincinnati “have heard until we're blue in the face” about the Justice recommendations.

        “But it's mainly been shown that it's all words and no action,” she said. “If you say you're going to do it, do it. I want them to keep their word.”

        Among the key points:

        • The department is developing a new risk management system that has started to track officers' use of force, lawsuits and other activity.

        An Enquirer review last year of the department's previous system found it being done by hand with records scattered throughout the department, rather than with the kind of computerized flagging system Justice has required in Pittsburgh and other cities.

        • Officers now must explain on use-of-force forms the circumstances surrounding any uses of chemical irritant, and officers will get more training on the use of the spray.

        Chemical irritant is the most common use of force in Cincinnati — officers sprayed it almost three times a day last year. But an Enquirer investigation found the department did not accurately report all the incidents.

        • The department will send all allegations of improper restraining force — such as twisting a suspect's arm behind his back — to its internal investigations section. Now, they are referred to the Citizen Complaint Review Process, which handles minor complaints.

        The response does not resolve the future of the city's Office of Municipal Investigation.

        Mayor Charlie Luken wants to take all citizen complaints about police away from the city agency and let them be investigated by a citizen panel. Council has not yet acted on it.

        It also does not outline costs, except in one case — the purchase of a comprehensive records management system at $4 to $7 million.

       

Citizens as "partners'
               Mayor Luken acknowledged that many of the changes are relatively minor adjustments to policy or procedure.

        But taken together, he said, the changes would represent a significant shift in the way the police department interacts with the rest of the community.

        “It's an approach that enlists the community as partners,” Mayor Luken said. “It's an overall better approach to working with citizens.”

        He wants the pact finalized by early April.

        By then, he wants city and federal officials to agree on a final list and on how the department will be monitored to make sure it does what it has promised.

        The city “respectfully disagrees” with Justice on few issues.

        The most significant of those could be the department's claim that officers should not have to report every time they take their guns out of their holsters.

        Justice suggested that change after hearing from citizens that officers pointed guns at them for no reason. Police officials bristled at those claims, saying it wasn't fair to say such things without giving the department the specifics needed to check out those reports.

        Requiring the unholstering reports “would be unnecessarily cumbersome and likely not useful,” Mr. Martin's response said. “More importantly, the CPD strongly believes that this proposed reporting requirement would have a chilling effect that would adversely affect officer safety.”

        The document says the police department is reviewing research on the government's suggestion that Cincinnati switch its type of chemical irritant to pepper spray.

        But police officials have said they do not think the switch is necessary — they think their CS gas is effective enough while less harmful to suspects than pepper spray.

       

Wrangling over words

               But city officials on Monday focused on the large number of issues on which they say the two sides already agree.

        “We thought it was important to get it out there, so people know what's going on,” said Pete Heile, deputy city solicitor. “I mean, on 65 of the recommendations — at least 65 that I count — we're in complete agreement.”

        That does not mean the city has agreed to make changes in all those. In many of them, Mr. Martin explains that department officials believe they already are doing what Justice suggested.

        For example: Among the DOJ's last recommendations was that Cincinnati police could ask outside agencies to review its procedures.

        In its response, the department said it agrees, but goes on to say the department already is regularly evaluated by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and that the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy reviews Cincinnati's training program annually.

        Chief Tom Streicher is out of town. Department spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd referred all questions to the city solicitor's office.

        Assistant Chief Rick Biehl said he could not comment on the report because he had not yet read it thoroughly.

        Roger Webster and Keith Fangman, president and vice president, respectively, of the Fraternal Order of Police, also said they had not had a chance to review it.

        Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio who is involved in the federal racial-profiling lawsuit against Cincinnati being mediated by a federal judge, said Monday he thinks the city's response shows officials are working in good faith to resolve issues.

        “That's an important piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I think there are some good starts in it.”

        City officials might discuss the response this afternoon at City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee meeting.

        “Obviously, this is a draft, and there's going to be a need to fill in the blanks,” said Councilman Pat DeWine, chairman of the committee. “Some of it is what it is, and it's pretty clear how you implement it. Changing the policy with regard to chemical irritant, for example. That's in black and white, and we're going to do it. But some of the things need to be worked out.”

       Dan Horn, Greg Korte and Kristina Goetz of the Enquirer contributed to this report.
       

       



- Police agree to make changes in procedures
City's response to Justice Department recommendations
Complete text of police department response
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