Sunday, March 23, 2003

The real story

Black Front left agreement for good cause


There's an untold story behind the Black United Front's exit from the historic collaborative agreement to improve police-community relations.

City Hall knows this story, but the city's spin doctors have ignored it.

The Front asked Tuesday to be removed from the collaborative agreement, ostensibly to concentrate more on their boycott of city conventions, entertainment and business.

Mayor Charlie Luken says he wants the city out of the deal, too. If the Front can quit, what's the point of the city staying in?

But that's not the whole story.

The Front also pulled out to help ensure private funding for a police-community relations center.

Last year, the City of Cincinnati faced a lawsuit in which African-American citizens alleged hundreds of incidents of racial profiling or excessive force by police. The city's police force also was under Department of Justice scrutiny following the April 2001 riots.

A so-called "collaborative" agreement was negotiated last April to settle the lawsuit. Representatives of the city, the police, the police union, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Black United Front signed it, agreeing to changes in the police department and to concentrate community efforts to foster respect and cooperation with police.

Historic or history?

Since then, many of the agreement's reforms for police have been accomplished, but much of the community's role has yet to be shaped.

That's where Community Problem-Oriented Policing (CPOP) comes in. It sets up neighborhood boards for citizens and police to meet regularly to go beyond solving crimes to solving the problems that give rise to crime.

But before a citywide rollout of CPOP occurred, power struggles ensued. Critics in community groups and even representatives in the collaborative agreement questioned whether police were trying for too much control.

Police leaders said they were merely trying to live up to the agreement - which imposes on them burdens of coordinating, training and policing the progress of CPOP.

On Jan. 31, members of the collaborative signed an amendment to create a Community Police Partnering Center to handle some of those duties. Although some city officials signed on, the amendment needs City Council approval.

The center is to be a clearinghouse for CPOP efforts, coordinating resources, funding and promoting CPOP, even training community members.

Police officials complained to Mayor Luken; they didn't want more oversight, Luken said.

The center is to be privately funded - no tax dollars involved - and it will be housed in the Greater Cincinnati Urban League's building. So far, about $8 million of the $20 million needed for the center has been raised.

Its nine-member board - yet to be named - was to be appointed by city officials, police, parties to the court-ordered agreement, Cincinnati CAN and others. Three members would have been appointed by the ACLU and Black United Front.

But some of the donors, who remain anonymous, made it clear that the center's board could not include boycott leaders, say Al Gerhardstein and Ken Lawson, lawyers involved in the agreement.

Faced with that proviso, the Black United Front opted to withdraw rather than endanger the center's funding or CPOP.

City officials knew the funding challenges for this center. They knew the choice the Front faced.

Why did some city leaders criticize the Front for backing out, painting the group as slackers in the process to improve police-community relations?

Luken said the Front brought "negativity" to the collaborative, but "something can be worked out" to keep CPOP alive.

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