Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Monitor, Streicher at odds over pace


Chief suggests lawsuits to blame

By Gregory Korte, Jane Prendergast
and Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Saul A. Green, the court-appointed independent monitor overseeing the Cincinnati Police Department, held just about everyone involved in the police reform effort accountable for missed deadlines and a lack of cooperation on police-community relations.

But in his 127-page report to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott, he identified one person as almost singularly responsible for the success or failure of the settlement on racial profiling: Police Chief Tom Streicher.

HIGHLIGHTS
Cincinnati police monitor Saul Green praised:
• Creation of a police Mental Health Response Team to deal with mentally ill people
• A new foot pursuit policy
• Some progress in reporting and investigating uses of force
• Creation of a firearms board to review investigations
• Making the citizen complaint process more open and accessible
• Creating the Citizen Complaint Authority, an independent body that investigates and reviews complaints against officers
• Creation of the Community Partnering Center, where citizens can be trained on crime-solving solutions.
He criticized:
• Not meeting deadlines for settlement provisions
• Not enough commitment by top police officials
• Insufficient collaboration among settlement parties
• Police foot-dragging on use of force changes demanded by Justice Department, including use of chemical spray and canines.
• Delays in creating a system to track police activities and officer performance issues.
• Lack of agreement among settlement parties on a Community Problem Oriented Policing program
• Delays in analyzing citizen contact cards on which officers record race, gender and other information on people they stop.
Read the complete report at www.cincinnatimonitor.org
The monitor said he has heard from too many people that the Police Department isn't collaborating enough with the other parties, and said Streicher "must put his prestige and authority behind the agreements."

If Green was implying that Streicher hasn't already done so, he's wrong, the chief responded Tuesday. And Streicher questioned how Green would make that judgment after less than 60 minutes of conversations with him since Green was appointed by Dlott in December.

"I personally feel committed to the process," Streicher said. "And I've expressed commitment to it."

Streicher downplayed the critical aspects of the monitor's report Tuesday, saying he was also encouraged by some of the things the city is doing well. And he said the report is just the first of at least a dozen that will track the city's progress over the next three to five years.

"I don't think we can expect to be in full compliance in just a couple of months," the police chief said. "There are growing pains here for everyone."

He said he didn't think it was appropriate to point a finger at one group. But without mentioning names, he said it was difficult to discuss the implementation of reforms "when the people sitting across the table from you are continuously suing you."

One of those people is Kenneth L. Lawson, a lawyer who represents the Cincinnati Black United Front in the agreements and who also represents many individual clients with excessive force complaints against the department. He said the city should hold Chief Streicher personally accountable for the lack of progress.

"I believe that Chief Streicher and Lieutenant Colonel (Richard) Janke have truly resisted change under the agreement," Lawson said. "If Janke and the chief can't change their attitudes, then the city should take them out of the mix and put in somebody who will implement the plan that their expert says will reduce crime."

Scott Greenwood, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, went even further. He noted that when the city signed the two police reform agreements in a high-profile ceremony featuring U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft a year ago, it was Mayor Charlie Luken and City Manager Valerie Lemmie at the table.

"The monitor emphasizes the attitude of defiance on the part of the city and stresses the need for direction from the political and administrative leadership," Greenwood said. "These are not suggestions. They are required changes in policy and operation. The collaborative agreement is not a study circle. It's the settlement of a class-action lawsuit."

Luken did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday, and other city officials referred questions to Streicher.

Indeed, city officials refused even to release the city's written, point-by-point response to a draft of the report, which the monitor had sent to the city 10 days before.

But the U.S. Justice Department's response to that draft blasted the city for "trivializing" the importance of deadlines in the agreements.

There are two police reform agreements, both signed a year ago:

• The settlement of a class-action federal lawsuit on racial profiling, called the "collaborative agreement." It calls for new oversight of the Police Department, a streamlined complaint process and a new strategy for what's called "community problem-oriented policing."

• The Justice Department conducted a "patterns and practices" investigation of the Police Department following the police shooting of Timothy Thomas in 2001, and mandated a number of policy changes relating to the use of foot pursuits, chemical spray, beanbag rounds and police dogs.

The monitor said the city had focused more on the Justice Department reforms than the Collaborative. But even so, the city hasn't implemented many of the federal use-of-force policies.

"We believe the fact that many deadlines ... have passed without compliance is a matter of great concern," the Justice Department said in a letter obtained by the Enquirer.

The monitor also said he lacked the documentation to judge whether the city was meeting other obligations.

A lack of documentation is not an excuse, the federal government said.

Roger Webster, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he hadn't seen the final report but didn't think the draft he read last week was all that critical of the city or the department.

"It's one of those things - he spanks the city for not getting things done in time," Webster said. "But a lot of it involves issuing contracts and hiring people to do things. You're not going to get some of these things done in time."

The monitor said the city's reliance on too many committees and outside contractors was slowing down many of the technological changes that will allow the city to track excessive force complaints and identify bad police officers.

The city was also supposed to improve its use of technology to help citizens report crime and identify crime trends.

Janke told City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that a Web site that will give neighborhoods access to crime data will be available next month.

That's not quick enough for Steve Sunderland, a Northside activist and critic of the city's community-oriented policing efforts.

"I resent as a citizen that we haven't had access to this information in the past year," Sunderland said. "There was been little communication between what the police are doing and what the community has been doing."

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com, jprendergast@enquirer.com or kaldridge@enquirer.com




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