Thursday, March 20, 2003

Council might rethink deal

Luken says collaboration breaking down

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati City Council might need to revisit whether it wants to remain a party to the historic collaborative agreement signed last year, Mayor Charlie Luken said Wednesday.

The mayor's comments came a day after the Cincinnati Black United Front announced it was pulling out of the landmark police reform accord to focus on expanding the 20-month-old boycott of downtown Cincinnati.

"I'm not sure that this whole thing is not becoming laughable at this point," Luken said. "We sign the agreement and the BUF tears it up, calls us all kinds of names and then pulls out. What are we doing here?"

Luken's remarks also came on the same day that a group of African-Americans marched through Northside and protested in front of District 5 police headquarters in remembrance of Michael Carpenter - an African-American man killed in an altercation with police nearly four years ago.

Luken said the city should consider finding another way to implement the Department of Justice's recommended reforms to the Cincinnati Police Department.

The Black United Front was viewed by many as a voice for street-level African-Americans. Its withdrawal from the collaborative raises questions about who might fill that void in implementing critical community policing changes.

"The front did a terrific job organizing people in order to bring the lawsuit and advocating their interest throughout the process," said ACLU lawyer Scott Greenwood. "The front, more than anybody else, was responsible for the reforms that we proposed."

Luken said while his view to pull out doesn't necessarily reflect the majority opinion of council, the matter would be discussed next week during the law committee meeting.

"Without the BUF, who are we collaborating with? The lawyers?" Luken said. "I just don't like the idea of collaborating with a bunch of lawyers, and that is what this is coming down to."

But front leaders and their attorney, Ken Lawson, said the mayor and city leaders can't drop out of the collaborative because they are under a federal court order that compels them to implement changes in police procedures. Lawson also represents plaintiffs involved in a federal racial-profiling lawsuit brought against the city by the ACLU and the front.

"We have worked hard on the police issues and now have a five-year federal court order that will change the way policing is accomplished in Cincinnati," said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the front. "The community will have a huge say in how it is policed and the city can't back out of that now."

Said Lawson, "Tell the mayor nice try and that we'll see him at the collaborative table. He is just trying to get out of the collaborative and blame everybody else because they don't want to abide by their own agreement."

Lawsonsaid the Black United Front had good reason for backing away. City officials were constantly using its involvement with the boycott to delay implementing parts of the agreement such as the community police partnering center.

"The front did what they were obligated to do and that's look out for the best interest of those in the class," Lawson said. "What's Luken's excuse for wanting to pull out other than he's in an agreement that's killing him?"

Retired federal court Judge Nathaniel Jones said Tuesday that, this may have been a case where the front removed itself before they could be removed.

"I don't think this was a situation where you could be a part of this agreement and also a part of the boycott," he said.

The collaborative agreement ended the racial-profiling lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Black United Front, which accused police of harassing and targeting African-Americans for decades.

It also incorporated a separate deal the city signed with the Justice Department to end an investigation of the police department launched after the April 2001 riots.

The combined agreements promise sweeping changes in police procedures, including use of force, citizen complaints, calls involving the mentally ill, establishing an independent monitor to oversee those new procedures, and a new community policing effort..

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft came to Cincinnati last April to sign the agreement, believed to be unlike any other in the country.

Luken said he opposed previous attempts to remove the front from the collaborative because the community needed some form of representation at the bargaining table. Even though the front "failed miserably" in that role, grassroots input is still needed, Luken said.


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