Saturday, March 23, 2002

Elder bashing

Criticism just isn't credible

        Here we go again: Police officers are getting slammed for having attended Elder High School.

        As I understand the logic, Elder is an all-white, Catholic boys school, so anyone who went there is not only racist but also incapable of change.

        Cincinnati's police chief and 81 other officers graduated from Elder, so therefore, the 1,040-member force must be corrupt.

        “You're looking at (the chief) being asked to discipline his high own school buddies,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton on WCIN-AM (1480) last Sunday.

        Which proves ... what, exactly?

        I've seen no evidence that Elder officers are protected when they screw up. Nor have I seen a pattern of racist behavior among them.

Proud of tradition

        Over 80 years, Elder has sent many young men into public service.

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen wore purple, as did several county judges and a host of cops and firefighters.

        This is no surprise, says Jim Fyfe, a police expert at Temple University.

        Conservative white neighborhoods tend to be prime recruiting grounds for civil servants, he says. Such jobs offer stability and decent pay without necessarily requiring college degrees, which appeals to people in tradition-bound, family-oriented places.

        That's the west side for you.

        Elder's valedictorian last year was a fourth-generation graduate. One-third of the school's faculty has taught at Elder for more than 30 years, and the school's fans are known for their loyalty.

        At games, they often sing the alma mater with right index finger pointed skyward.

        “Sometimes when you sing it, you'll look around and see tears in people's eyes,” Cincinnati Police Officer Kevin Ballman says. “You're overcome with emotion and spirit.”

        Hokey? You bet.

        Evidence that Elder graduates shouldn't become cops? Hardly.

Favorable numbers

        I crunched some numbers using data from police personnel files.

        As of July, Elder graduates represented 8 percent of the police force, more than any other single school.

        Eighteen percent of the Elder officers had discipline in their files, compared to 23 percent of the force overall. But Elder alumni also were more likely to have attended college, and as a whole, college-educated officers face discipline less often than others, the police data show.

        I also looked at citizen complaints against officers for rudeness, improper procedure and the like. In 2000, Elder graduates accounted for just 5 percent of such complaints.

        It's unfair to bandy about the Elder name as if it proves a conspiracy of bigots. Critics are not only assuming too much but also ignoring years of change in the department.

        In 1986, Chief Larry Whalen and three of his four assistants all came from Elder. That would be impossible today, with court decrees requiring the promotion of one African-American for every four whites.

        Today, 29 percent of Cincinnati's police force is black, and officers hail from 314 different high schools.

        Yes, the department has problems. But the mere presence of Elder alumni isn't one of them.



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