Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Police union OKs profiling suit deal

By Jane Prendergast jprendergast@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Members of the Cincinnati police officers union joined some of their harshest critics Monday in approving a federal court settlement of racial profiling allegations.

FOP Vice President Keith Fangman speaks after the vote was announced.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        The vote, with 62 percent in favor, demonstrated that most officers got past their biggest concern: that agreeing to the settlement would mean they admit they commit racial profiling. Fraternal Order of Police officials, who helped negotiate the settlement, stressed in meetings with officers that they were admitting no such thing.

        “We don't do it,” FOP President Roger Webster said of racial profiling. “We haven't done it, and we never will do it.”

        Of the 999 eligible members, 324 voted in favor and 201 were opposed. The vote was not as close as union officials had predicted.

        Mayor Charlie Luken and others at City Hall feared the FOP might reject the settlement, which would have returned the proceedings to federal court.

        The FOP vote specifically concerned a collaborative agreement reached last week among the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the Black United Front, the city and the FOP.

        The agreement arose from an ACLU and Black United Front lawsuit alleging decades of racial bias by the Cincinnati Police Department. Instead of arguing the case as a lawsuit, the parties agreed to devise a new community problem-solving approach that will be monitored by a federal judge.

        Officers did not vote on a separate but intrinsically related agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice. In that agreement, the city accepted new restrictions on police use of force and created a new civilian oversight authority.

        City and federal officials Monday were working out a plan to have U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft visit Friday to endorse that agreement.

        “There's the very beginning of some trust here,” said Officer Keith Fangman, union vice president, “the very beginning.”

        The 30-member statewide ACLU board will not complete voting until today. Fewer than half the board members had voted by e-mail or telephone Monday night. City Council and the Black United Front signed off last week, meaning the agreement next goes to the federal court to become final.

        Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinels, said he and other officials of the black officers' group emphasized that the agreement did nothing to change their contract and that the chief could implement many of the changes anyway.

        “I think it was really both black and white police officers who wanted to change the image of the past year. Most of us wanted to be viewed in a different light.”

        Though the vote came out well in favor, many officers who lent their approval didn't do so with overwhelming enthusiasm. Officer Greg Meadows called it a “Catch-22.”

        “We'll have more input this way, supposedly,” he said. “It's not anything that's really going to hurt us at all, I don't think.”

        The union sold the deal by emphasizing:

        • That all positive encounters citizens have with police shall be kept in a database.

        • A sample of officers and their families will be surveyed periodically about the police department and city as work climates, and to ask for any ideas for improvement. It was unheard of, Mr. Webster said, for a beat cop to be asked — and allowed to say — what he or she thinks.

        • That police won't be required, as was set out in an earlier form of the deal, to file a report every time they draw their guns. Instead, they agreed to a review of whether there is such a pattern.

        “I don't think they're going to find it,” Mr. Webster said. “It just doesn't happen.”

        Officer Fangman emphasized that officers could also benefit from a proposed system to report problem contacts between officers and citizens.

        “So now, when somebody spits on me or calls me a name, I have a place to report that,” he said. “That's a beautiful thing.”

        But he also blasted City Council for, “in its infinite wisdom,” agreeing to proceed with the collaborative in a case some city officials thought had little merit.

Settlement provisions
Background on issues, settlement
City trying to raise $600,000 for lawyers

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