Thursday, April 04, 2002

Plan may alter policy more than beat


New complaint oversight, more canine control among changes

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The 60 pages of changes proposed Wednesday for the Cincinnati Police Department may have little significant effect on the daily work of the average street officer.

        But it includes a lot of policy writing for management and better tracking of virtually everything the department does.

        Police Chief Tom Streicher called the racial-profiling lawsuit settlement and the proposed agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice “a good starting point for the future.”

POLICE REFORMS
    Cincinnati has agreed to a sweeping settlement intended to satisfy U.S. Justice Department concerns and settle a lawsuit accusing the police department of harassing African-Americans for 30 years. The Justice Department recommended numerous changes to tighten policies governing use of force, enhance training and improve record-keeping.
    In the agreement, the city did not admit any wrongdoing by its police force.
    Here are some of the changes being proposed to improve police procedures:
    • Mental illness training: Selected officers will get extra training to respond to calls involving mentally ill people. This is an expansion of a program with the Hamilton County Community Mental Health Board under way in District 5 since December 2000. The department has done extra training in this field before, as far back as the early 1980s.
    • Gun-discharge review board: The department now asks its training director and other supervisors to review all investigations of weapons discharges. This will pull the separate reviewers into one panel.
    • Foot pursuit policy: Recruits are taught in the police academy what factors to think about before deciding to chase someone. This puts that training into a formal policy. It will not specify when an officer can and cannot chase; it will remind them of the factors to think about.
    • Use of beanbags: Except in an emergency, police would be obliged to give verbal warnings when a beanbag or foam projectile is fired at anyone.
    • Chemical spray: Police will limit the use of chemical spray to encounters where it is necessary to effect an arrest of a person who is resisting, or to protect the officer or another person from physical harm.
        He acknowledged that much of what is proposed is policy changes that have to be done at his level, rather than major shifts in what an average citizen might see an officer do.

        “It's more emphasis for us on accountability,” the chief said. “And that's fine. Scrutiny comes with this job. Hopefully this will lead to some enhanced credibility for us.”

        Implementing the proposals could cost $5 million, including at least $1.25 million in the first year. That will be spent on equipment, police staffing and operation of a citizen review panel.

        The city has 1,020 officers and plans to hire at least 30 more this year.

        Among the specific changes proposed:

        • A new Citizen Complaint Authority: It will eliminate both the city Office of Municipal Investigation and the independent Citizens Police Review Panel.

        More kinds of complaints, including those for improper search and seizure, will be handled by the police department's internal investigations section. Also, officers must carry complaint forms with them, to help citizens know how to lodge their objections.

        • More control of police dogs. Canines will not be allowed to bite unless the suspect poses a risk of imminent danger or is resisting or escaping.

        “Until now, this was an area kind of left to the dog handlers themselves,” Chief Streicher said. “Now, there will be better management controls.”

        • Use of force procedures. Rules will be changed to allow the use of force when suspects are “actively resisting” — bracing, tensing or pushing, for example — clarifying actions that warrant use of force. • System for reporting any claims of officers pointing guns unnecessarily. The Cincinnati Black United Front and American Civil Liberties Union, plaintiffs in the racial profiling lawsuit, will collect the complaints. Police still will investigate complaints.

        “Let them do that. It's fine with us,” said Roger Webster, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Let them prove we aren't out there waving our guns at people for no reason. Because I don't think we are.”

        • More citizen involvement. This includes disseminating policy revisions to community councils and posting more information on the department Web site, www.cincinnatipolice.org.

        • More training on chemical irritants. The plan includes an emphasis that sprays should last only two to three seconds.

        For Wednesday's proposed settlement to take effect, police officers will vote on the proposals over three days, starting today. The results of that vote are expected Saturday night. The other parties — Cincinnati City Council and Black United Front — also must approve the settlement.

        After that, Chief Streicher said his next step is simple: “Get to work. We've got some things to implement here.”

       



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