Thursday, April 04, 2002

Cincinnati may set a precedent

Proposal to end police probe unique

By Dan Horn,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The proposal to end the federal investigation into Cincinnati's police department is unlike any other in the United States.

        If approved by all the parties involved, the deal could become a national model for resolving civil rights investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice.

        The deal calls for unprecedented cooperation among the city, the police, the Justice Department and African-Americans who have complained for years about the conduct of police officers.

        “I have never seen an effort like this,” said William “Billy” Martin, the city's high-powered Washington lawyer. “This collaboration is a first.”

        The federal investigation began after the April 2001 riots. Justice Department investigators wanted to determine whether the “patterns and practices” of Cincinnati police violated the civil rights of minorities.

        The department has carried out more than a dozen such investigations in other cities, but none has resulted in an agreement like the one in Cincinnati.

        The key difference: All the parties involved here — the city, Justice and the community — will play a part in the monitoring and enforcement of the agreement.

        Until Cincinnati, similar federal investigations have ended in one of four ways:

        • With a consent decree, or court-supervised agreement, that the city accepts only after the threat of a federal lawsuit. This was the resolution in Pittsburgh; Los Angeles; Steubenville, Ohio; and New Jersey. The decrees imposed reforms but were criticized by officials and community activists who felt they had little input.

        • With a federal lawsuit. Columbus became the only city to take this course when it refused to accept a consent decree, deciding to fight instead. The case still is in court.

        • With no legal action. In these cases, the Justice Department walks away after finding no federal civil rights violations.

        • With a settlement agreement. This is the resolution most like the one in Cincinnati. It was adopted recently in Washington, D.C., when city and federal officials signed an agreement and hired an independent monitor to enforce it. Unlike Cincinnati, however, community groups were not partners in the settlement.


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