Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Heimlich blasts police reforms, judges

Some call comments inappropriate to memorial march

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Phil Heimlich speaks on Fountain Square during the annual police memorial day ceremony.
(Gary Landers photo)
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Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich took Monday's police memorial ceremony as his opportunity to blast the city and everyone else involved in Cincinnati police reforms.

In a speech on Fountain Square at noon, he said he was sorry for everything from "lukewarm" leadership of Cincinnati CAN, to the new federally mandated Citizens Complaint Authority and "elected officials who cut deals with boycott leaders."

Heimlich, formerly a city councilman, took a shot, too, at U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott.

She is overseeing the implementation of the use-of-force and other reforms ordered 13 months ago by the U.S. Department of Justice as well as the changes in police/community relations outlined in the collaborative agreement.

"We regret that you have been put under the authority of judges building national reputations at your expense, judges who get no closer to a dark alley in Over-the-Rhine than the 5th Street off-ramp off I-75 on their way to work," Heimlich said.

Police officers, their families and friends stand at attention for the singing of the national anthem on Fountain Square.
(Gary Landers photo)
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The remarks drew sharp criticism from Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinel Police Association, a group of predominantly black Cincinnati officers.

The department's annual honor for fallen officers "wasn't the place for Phil Heimlich and his political back-stabbing," he said.

He called the comments "tasteless" and Heimlich the "star child for why Hamilton County will never move forward."

Ken Lawson, an attorney representing the Cincinnati Black United Front in the collaborative agreement, said it was "good to see Phil hasn't changed any."

"But the bottom line," Lawson said, "is don't apologize, just do what's right."

Mounted Patrol Officer Cathy Erhardt leads her mount Joseph, "The Riderless Horse," on Vine Street during the police memorial day parade.
(Gary Landers photo)
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Heimlich's keynote remarks followed short, less pointed speeches by Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Keith Fangman, Police Chief  Tom Streicher, Mayor Charlie Luken and City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

All of them focused on the reason for the annual ceremony - to honor colleagues who have died in the line of duty.

The mayor won applause from the crowd of about 300 officers, families and other supporters. His relationship with the FOP has improved greatly since he asked the Justice Department to step in after the April 2001 riots.

Heimlich mentioned leaders who, "as the cameras roll," demand federal investigations.

Luken thanked Officer Michael Schulte, the Northside beat cop who chased an accused burglar in February and killed him after a struggle. Schulte chased him "because it is, and was, his job," the mayor said, and no one should have questioned that.

Fangman, who emceed the event, said Luken had supported police for the past year "and deserves credit for that."

But he also said Heimlich was expressing the frustration many officers and citizens feel.

Luken, a Democrat, declined to respond to Republican Heimlich's remarks, saying police memorial day should stay focused on honoring officers and should not be politicized.

Streicher said the memorial had new meaning this year because of the war in Iraq.

Here, Cincinnati officers are the protectors of freedom, he said, and the defenders of constitutional rights.

Sharon Turco contributed to this report.

E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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