Saturday, April 13, 2002

Settlement signed, hailed as model

Ashcroft sees 'a city of reconciliation'

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft signed a police reform agreement Friday with the city of Cincinnati, calling it a “model of reform” and an example for other cities.

        The signing ceremony ended a “patterns and practices” investigation of the Cincinnati Police Department that began a year ago today. Mayor Charlie Luken called for the investigation after the riots last April that followed the police shooting of Timothy Thomas.

[photo] U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (center) shakes hands with Mayor Charlie Luken as the Rev. Damon Lynch applauds the signing on the settlement.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Unlike many similar investigations by his predecessor in the Clinton administration, Mr. Ashcroft said his department's inquiry used a more “cooperative” and “harmonious” approach.

        “Our priority was to fix the problem, not to fix the blame,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “In one year's time, hardworking Cincinnatians have transformed this city from a city of division to a city of reconciliation.”

        The agreement's signing in City Council's chambers was mostly ceremonial. Ten people gave speeches, and they thanked at least two dozen other people.

        Mr. Ashcroft commended the “helpfulness” of the Black United Front and the American Civil Liberties Unio. Black United Front President Damon Lynch III responded by calling the Justice Department investigators “consummate professionals.”

        The attorney general's visit to Cincinnati also was the first time Justice Department officials have spoken publicly about the “patterns and practices” investigation.

        The agreement changes police policy on when and how police officers may use force and engage in foot chases, creates a Civilian Complaint Authority to track police misconduct, and requires police to create a special unit to deal with mentally ill suspects.

        But some more stringent provisions — requiring officers to file a report each time they remove their guns from their holsters — were removed from the final draft.

        “The Justice Department does not come to Cincinnati knowing all of the answers,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “It's our happy privilege to yield to the wisdom of those who have to live with the outcome.”

        Justice officials offered less hope, however, for city officials eager to hear a commitment of federal money to pay for reforms that could cost more than $20 million over five years.

        “We want to help the city get whatever it can get,” said Ralph F. Boyd Jr., the assistant attorney general for civil rights. “We haven't given guarantees, but we will exert as much influence as we can to help make this happen.”

        The settlement was described by almost everyone in the room as a model for the rest of the country. In particular, Mr. Boyd contrasted the Cincinnati investigation to one in Columbus, where the Justice Department has sued the city alleging a pattern of “using excessive force, making false arrests and lodging false charges, and conducting improper searches and seizures.”

        Part of Cincinnati's success came through a separate — but closely intertwined — “collaborative agreement” also signed Friday. That agreement, which ended a racial profiling lawsuit against the city, also involved the police union, the Black United Front and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. It creates a new focus on “problem-oriented policing” and will ensure oversight of the police department by a federal monitor.

        “The hard work has ended and the harder work begins,” said the Rev. Mr. Lynch, who is pastor of the New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine. “We all must make the commitment that the spirit of the agreement will outlive the time frame that's on paper.”

        He made no mention of his group's continued calls for a boycott against the city.

        The spirit of cooperation at the signing ceremony made for some unusual cordiality among people with starkly different views of law enforcement and civil rights.

        Mr. Ashcroft is a conservative frequently criticized for his record on civil rights; the Rev. Mr. Lynch has called Cincinnati police officers murderers and rapists and demanded amnesty for those involved in last April's riots. Both are preachers' sons.

        At one point during the signing ceremony, Mr. Ashcroft put his arm around the pastor, and the two exchanged smiles.

        “We were talking about church,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said afterward. “He's a member of the Assemblies of God. I'm a Baptist. We talked about going to church together.”

       Dan Horn contributed to this report.


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