Sunday, April 20, 2003

New police advocate on hot seat

You have to respect a man like Cincinnati Police Lt. Anthony G. Carter. He's not afraid to investigate one of his own.

While working in internal affairs and then in homicide, Carter investigated some high-profile cases involving fellow officers.

He managed to remain in the background, though, like many investigators on such cases.

Now Carter, 42, is taking on a non-investigative role that may involve similar controversies. And it's definitely not in the background.

Carter last week became the police department's newly created Advocate. The title makes it sound like a cushy political job, like a lobbyist for the police.

There will be some of that, I'm sure.

He'll interact regularly with City Manager Valerie Lemmie's office. And his immediate supervisor is Chief Thomas Streicher.

Carter will be more like a troubleshooter for the department, Streicher says, someone to whom officers can report wrongdoing by fellow officers and perhaps suggest ways to improve the department.

Members of the public also can go to Carter if they're uncomfortable complaining through the usual channels.

Public accountability

The idea is to create another conduit to Chief Streicher, or at least to someone who has his ear.

The job is a community relations move, perhaps filling a perceived hole left vacant when Lt. Col. Ron Twitty resigned under fire last year.

Under current police rules, officers must report police violations of local laws to their supervisors.

Then the allegation is supposed to creep up the chain of command.

Carter's role is for officers who don't trust that system, a kind of check and balance, said Carter, a 21-year police veteran.

"I've heard this could be a career builder or booster, but nobody up the ladder has ever said that to me," Carter joked Friday.

Carter will juggle several other roles, too.

Last year, allegations that minority officers were disciplined more harshly than white colleagues got the attention of City Hall. Carter's job includes examining police disciplinary cases for fairness.

Carter also is supposed to back up Public Information Officer Lt. Kurt Byrd, whose job is talking to the news media.

Last week was Carter's first on the job. Byrd was vacationing when five shootings resulted in three deaths.

The advocate's position is a sensitive one, Carter admits, but he should be used to that.

Internal investigations

When Roger Owensby Jr. died in police custody three years ago, Carter was a sergeant working homicide. He helped supervise investigators on that case and testified in court against two officers, who were acquitted.

Then, last year, Carter revisited the case for the police department's internal investigation. Seven officers were dismissed or suspended.

More recently, Carter was among those who sent up the departmental ladder the notorious traffic-accident report involving Twitty's damaged vehicle.

Carter red-flagged problems in the report to his district commander and discussed the lack of debris from the accident. But he didn't handle the investigation.

A friendly, confident communicator, Carter says he doesn't like talking about these kinds of cases.

He may not be boastful, but he's not ashamed of them either, he said. He and his fellow investigators were just doing their jobs, fairly and professionally.

If fellow officers have questions or criticisms, "I can explain to any police officer who comes up to me why I did what I did," he said.

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