Saturday, April 06, 2002

Police vote is last hurdle to agreement


City Council's approval is swift and unanimous

By Gregory Korte, gkorte@enquirer.com
and Jane Prendergast, jprendergast@enquirer.com

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With City Council's passage of a groundbreaking package of police reforms, the fate of Cincinnati's effort next rests with the Fraternal Order of Police.

        It's now the police union's turn to approve or disapprove the so-called “collaborative agreement” to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that police routinely single out African-Americans for aggressive enforcement.

        The union, which represents 1,020 officers, will conclude voting on the settlement tonight. But results will not be announced until Monday — a year and a day after the fatal police shooting last year that led to rioting.

[photo] Councilman Pat DeWine reads a clause added to the city's settlement approval that plaintiffs' attorneys' fees of $600,000 will not be paid by the city.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        FOP Vice President Keith Fangman predicted the vote would be close. Mayor Charlie Luken said he is keeping a close eye on the FOP vote.

        “I've heard it's going to pass,” he said. “I've heard it's going to fail. I've heard it's going to be close. What we're trying to reinforce is what will happen if it doesn't pass.”

        If the FOP rejects the settlement, the parties would have to either renegotiate it or, more likely, battle out the lawsuit in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott.

        Another hurdle to making the settlement final: raising $600,000 for the plaintiffs' attorneys — which City Council refused to pay.

        In two days, the “Friends of the Collaborative” has raised $200,000 from sports figures and entertainers. Television talker and former Mayor Jerry Springer gave $25,000.

        “It's been a tough issue for Cincinnati to deal with for so long, that I think it's great that there's a resolution to it,” Mr. Springer said Friday night. “It sounded like a great cause.”

        The money will help satisfy lawyers for the Black United Front, which has already approved the agreement, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which votes Monday.

        The parties are voting only on the collaborative agreement reached in federal court and not on the Justice Department settlement.

        Police officers declined to discuss the agreement publicly, but there may be reservations over continued dealings with groups such as the Black United Front. The group's president, the Rev. Damon Lynch III, supports the boycott of Cincinnati and referred to officers in a letter last year as rapists and murderers.

        Many of the reforms would take place with or without the police union's consent.

        The ordinances passed by City Council Friday create a Citizen Complaint Authority to investigate complaints of excessive force and other major police misconduct. That will happen whether or not the settlement is ultimately approved.

        And the Justice Department agreement — which imposes reforms on use-of-force policy — is separate from the lawsuit and would move forward.

        Council's vote in a special session Friday was 8-0. Councilwoman Minette Cooper arrived late and added her support afterward. There was no debate.

        “A lack of discussion, at least on my part, does not indicate any lack of enthusiasm for what we have accomplished,” said Mr. Luken.

        Vice Mayor Alicia Reece called the agreements “a piece of history,” and Councilman David Pepper applauded his colleagues for moving forward in the “spirit of unity.”

        “It's evidence of why the spirit of division we see in the boycott makes no sense,” he said.

        With Democrats solidly behind the settlement — half the Democratic caucus was in the room when it was negotiated — the only suspense Friday was in how members of the Republican and Charter parties would vote.

        They were concerned that the settlement was silent on the issue of who would pay the attorneys fees to the plaintiffs. One of the plaintiffs was the Black United Front.

        Republican Pat DeWine resolved that debate by slipping an extra “whereas” clause into the settlement ordinance. It expressed City Council's understanding that the plaintiffs would not seek $600,000 attorneys fees from the city.

        City Council's vote Friday was actually two separate votes — the first to approve an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department on the police use of force, the second to approve the racial profiling settlement.

        City Solicitor Fay Dupuis advised council members that the two were so intertwined that “passage of one necessitates passage of another.”

        Neither agreement contains any finding that the Cincinnati Police Department systematically violated the rights of citizens.

        Still, the failure of the collaborative could affect even that agreement. The Justice Department agreed to drop demands that officers file a report each time they unholster their weapons only because the racial profiling settlement provided a process by which citizens could complain about officers pointing guns.

       



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