Saturday, March 30, 2002

Race cases near deals

Negotiators talk about linking two agreements

By Kristina Goetz,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Tentative settlements could come today in both the racial profiling lawsuit against the city of Cincinnati and the U.S. Justice Department investigation of the police department.

        Mediators in the racial profiling case disclosed late Friday that they had reached agreement in at least three areas. They would not, however, release details.

        The one that may have the most impact is agreement to begin discussions on possibly linking Justice Department recommendations to the racial profiling settlement, with potential for one monitor to oversee all proposed changes.

        “I'm hopeful that we're going to have a final agreement or very close to a final agreement between the city and the Department of Justice (today),” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz of Dayton. He is a negotiator in the final days of the racial profiling settlement talks.

        Justice Department officials met with the parties in the lawsuit — the Fraternal Order of Police, the ACLU and a local black activists group — for several hours Friday.

        They will reconvene at 9 a.m. today.

        “Now, we're working on final language,” Judge Merz said. “I have hopes we'll be done.”

        There are two other areas of consensus in the proposed racial profiling settlement:

        • A concept called “community problem-oriented policing.” It is designed to analyze crime and find ways to prevent it.

        • The citizen complaint process.

        The foundation of what negotiators agreed upon was laid out in a proposal earlier this week. In that document, agencies that provide independent review of the police department would be abolished and replaced with a Citizen Complaint Authority.

        The new agency would replace the Citizens Police Review Panel, created in 1998, and the Office of Municipal Investigation, created in 1981. City officials hope the new agency would combine the openness and citizen participation of the review panel with the investigatory muscle of OMI.

        “That's an enormous amount of progress,” Judge Merz said. “All the lawyers will have to sell it to their clients, but the key thing is that there's a lot of ink on paper.”

        This week's talks are the culmination of a request by the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of local black activists last year that a racial profiling lawsuit already filed against the city be certified as a class action.

        Before much could happen with the case, the city's worst riots in 30 years erupted after a Cincinnati police officer shot and killed Timothy Thomas. He was an unarmed African-American who was fleeing police in Over-the-Rhine.

        Mayor Charlie Luken then called for a separate U.S. Justice Department investigation of the police department's patterns and practices. Recently, Justice Department officials and those involved in the racial profiling lawsuit have begun to discuss the similarities in each of the cases and how the two might dovetail.

        As the parties begin to move closer to an agreement, community interest and pressure are building. The impact of any settlement, criminal justice experts say, has the potential to change the face of police-community relations locally and nationally.

        It could create a precedent for other communities looking for ways to solve their own problems with race relations.

        U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott has scheduled Friday as the last day for negotiations in the racial profiling lawsuit. If the parties reach an agreement, she must sign off on it and Cincinnati City Council must then take a vote.

        If no agreement is reached, the parties will head back to court.


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