Thursday, May 1, 2003

Sentinels: We'll take FOP place at table

Black police officer group blasts collaborative pullout

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

An association of African-American police officers said Wednesday that if the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police wants to pull out of the collaborative agreement on police reforms, it would accept a seat at the table.

"We think it's unfortunate if they pull out of the collaborative," Scotty Johnson, president of Sentinel Police Association, said Wednesday. "If the FOP wants out, the Sentinels want in at the bargaining table."

The FOP announced Tuesday that it wants to be released from the historic agreement, saying its officers shouldn't have to work with an attorney - Ken Lawson - who continues to sue them and a federal judge - Susan Dlott - the union thinks is biased.

More than 200 of Cincinnati's 1,050 police officers voted Monday night to withdraw from the collaborative.

Dlott, who oversees compliance with both the collaborative agreement and a separate agreement with the Justice Department, must approve the FOP's request before it would be allowed to back out. Subsequently, she would also have to name the Sentinels as a replacement.

Dlott declined comment Wednesday.

FOP President Roger Webster called the Sentinels' request "a slap in the face" to the union. He questioned why the Sentinels would want to participate in a police reform process that wasn't working and that was wasting $7 million in taxpayers' money.

"That's fine if they want to do that. More power to them," Webster said. "But this judge has shown that she is prejudiced toward the police.

"Is Scotty going to get a fair shake? I don't think so," he said.

Although covered by the FOP contract, most black officers - 28 percent of the force - belong to the Sentinel Police Association and don't attend FOP meetings. The group has taken a markedly different tone on racial issues than the FOP over the years.

The Sentinels took a "no-confidence" vote in the FOP in July after the union did not immediately defend then-assistant chief Lt. Col. Ron Twitty - the city's highest-ranking black officer - who was accused of lying about how his police-issued vehicle was damaged. In 2001, Johnson, a 17-year veteran, testified before City Council on behalf of an ordinance banning racial profiling by the police department.

Johnson said he anticipates that the Sentinels stance on the collaborative might upset some FOP leaders and rank-and-file cops. However, he said the accord is too important for the parties to start running away from the table.

"We want to see the collaborative come to fruition and be completed," Johnson said. "We also want to make sure the police have some input into the way we do our jobs."

Keith Fangman, vice president of the police union, said having the Sentinels at the table would create a conflict of interest for attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represents the Sentinels and the ACLU - a plaintiff in the collaborative.

Johnson said the Sentinels support both Dlott and the attorneys representing the plaintiff class. Johnson said Dlott's comments criticizing police for violating the rights of individuals have been taken out of context.

Instead, he questioned whether the FOP's decision to pull out of the collaborative truly reflects the feelings of a majority of the department's officers.

"How do 200 members of the FOP speak for more than 1,000 members collectively?" said Johnson, who did not attend the meeting where the vote was taken.

Fangman said officers are well aware that the FOP meets once a month to conduct business and vote on important issues

"If individual members are too lazy to come to an FOP meeting once a month, they have no reason to whine about it after the fact," Fangman said.

Johnson said some police officers are having a hard time sharing power with citizens.

"Change is like the bogeyman in Hamilton County," Johnson said. "We are so scared to take a step outside of what we've always been doing.


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