Thursday, March 14, 2002

Luken: Federal proposal 'onerous'

City officials still negotiating police reforms

By Dan Horn, and and Jane Prendergast,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati officials are shocked by the harsh tone of a recent federal proposal to reform the city's police department.

        After months of talk about cooperating with the city, the U.S. Department of Justice delivered a proposal last week that Mayor Charlie Luken described as “onerous.”

        The proposal came during negotiations to end an investigation into the “patterns and practices” of Cincinnati police.

        Although the proposal has not been made public, Mr. Luken said Wednesday it called for too much intrusion into the day-to-day work of officers. He said officials, since they received it, have been revising it and renegotiating with the Justice Department.

        “Our law department said what they got from the Department of Justice was not consistent with what they expected,” the mayor said. “It was more onerous.”

        The mayor's words were the first public comments about the nature of the latest step in talks with the Justice Department. Many other police and city officials refused to discuss the settlement talks, saying they feared talking about it would jeopardize what has been a relatively calm working relationship.

        The document under discussion remains secret. Neither the city solicitor nor the Justice Department has released it, despite open-records requests filed by the Enquirer to both offices.

        City officials argue that the document is exempt from the state open-records law but haven't said why.

        The Enquirer will ask a Hamilton County appeals court today to force the city to provide the document.

        Nelson Hermilla, who handles Freedom of Information Act requests for Justice's civil rights division, said he had referred the newspaper's letter to assistant attorney general Ralph Boyd for his recommendation on whether it should be released.

        Mayor Luken said he wants the public eventually to know “every dotted "i' and crossed "t,”' but he realizes the sensitive nature of the negotiations. Justice, he said, “gets really annoyed” at publicity about the talks.

        The federal civil rights investigation began in April 2001 after the fatal police shooting of Timothy Thomas — an unarmed black man who ran from officers — sparked riots in Cincinnati.

        From the outset of the investigation, city officials have emphasized their desire to cooperate with the Department of Justice. The goal, they said, was to avoid the animosity that accompanied similar investigations in other cities.

        The city also hoped to avoid a federal consent decree — or court order — that would mandate changes in the police department. Mayor Luken said the document stopped short of suggesting a consent decree.

        City Council members Pat DeWine and John Cranley both said Wednesday they had not seen the Justice document.

        Mr. DeWine, chairman of council's Law and Public Safety committee, said he did not want to hold up finalizing the agreement with Justice during a critical stage of the mediation of a federal lawsuit alleging decades of discrimination against blacks in Cincinnati.

        Mr. DeWine said he remains opposed to merging the two processes together into one, though some involved in the mediation collaborative are pushing for that.

        “It's not going to happen if I have anything to do with it,” Mr. DeWine said.

        Members of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition (MARC), at their lunchtime meeting Wednesday, prayed again for success as officials continue to negotiate.


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