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Cincinnati: Issue Between City Manager and FOP

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley celebrated his comeback victory on Tuesday; a reelection effort was under significant threat this summer. Enter City Council member Yvette Simpson, who not only ran for mayor, but also defeated Cranley during the primary. It should be noted that Cincinnati mayoral elections are nonpartisan, only allowing the top two candidates with the most primary votes to proceed to the general election, regardless of party affliction. That led to two democrats fighting for office, which Cranley won.

Tuesday’s celebration was quickly diminished after reports surfaced that Cincinnati’s City Manager Harry Black called the Fraternal Order Dan Hils, in what is being described as a “hostile late-night phone call” in late October.

Yikes.

Per the Cincinnati Enquirer.

In the call, made at 11:42 p.m., Friday, Oct. 27, Black was angry that Hils was trying to keep two officers accused of racial profiling and using excessive force from being interviewed by the city’s Citizen Complaint Authority. Hils provided The Enquirer with a recording of the call Wednesday afternoon, in which Black says Hils was “intentionally obstructing the CCA process.”

“It’s intimidation beginning to end,” Hils said Wednesday. Even if authorities don’t pursue criminal charges against Black, he said, he could possibly sue in civil court.

Black acknowledges making the call but said that he was trying to get Hils to stop interfering. “I engaged with him on the phone, and it most likely became somewhat heated,” Black said Wednesday. “I asked him to stop working on this temporary restraining order, and his response was, ‘he has to look after his people.'”

According to their website, the Citizen Complaint Authority traces their roots back to the Cincinnati riots of 2001.

Cincinnati riots in 2001

Tensions between the black community and Cincinnati’s police department had been building around the mid-to-late 90s. Community activists and ministers were working with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue Cincinnati, alleging racial profiling and the deaths of 15 African American men killed by Cincinnati police over a five-year span. However, according to the City Journal, some of those were justified:

…the list of the 15 police victims shows the depraved nature not of Cincinnati’s cops but of its criminals. Harvey Price, who heads the roster, axed his girlfriend’s 15-year-old daughter to death in 1995, then held a SWAT team at bay for four hours with a steak knife, despite being maced and hit with a stun gun. When he lunged at an officer with the knife, the cop shot him. Jermaine Lowe, a parole violator wanted for armed robbery, fled in a stolen car at the sight of a police cruiser, crashed into another car, then unloaded his handgun at the pursuing officers. Alfred Pope robbed, pistol-whipped, and most likely fired at three people in an apartment hallway, just the latest assault by the vicious 23-year-old, who had already racked up 18 felony charges and five convictions. He then aimed his handgun at close range at the pursuing officers, and they shot him dead in return. To call such lowlifes martyrs to police brutality is a stretch.

Not all were justified obviously with “three of the 15 cases [raising] series questions about officer misjudgment and excessive force.” When patrolman Stephen Roach attempted to arrest 19-year African American Timothy Thomas for 14 active non-violent misdemeanors, Thomas ran. The chase ended when Roach shot and killed the unarmed 19-year old African American in a dark alley in Over-the-Rhine on April 7, 2001. Hours later, the riots began.

Mayor Charlie Luken issued a three-day curfew, successfully restoring order. However, tensions remained. Celebrities called for a boycott in Cincinnati, and various events scheduled were canceled, causing an estimated loss of $10 million. Mayor Luken reacted poorly, calling the boycott “economic terrorism”. Roach, the patrolman that killed Thomas, was acquitted of negligent homicide and obstruction of police business, despite an internal review finding that Roach had lied on his report and violated several departmental policies. You’re thinking, there’s no way that Roach would be a police officer now, right? Wrong. He was hired months later by the Evendale police department, where he reportedly remains today.

Over a period of time, Cincinnati and community leaders eventually created the Collaborative Agreement designed to achieve five goals:

  1. Police officers and community members will become proactive partners in community problem solving.
  2. Build relationships of respect, cooperation, and trust within and between police and communities.
  3. Improve education, oversight, monitoring, hiring practices, and accountability of the Cincinnati Police Department.
  4. Ensure fair, equitable, courteous treatment for all
  5. Create methods to establish the public’s understanding of police policies and procedures and recognition for exceptional service in an effort to foster support for the police.

Of course, this is a great step forward. Except the police didn’t think so, demonstrating with a reduction of patrols and only responding to calls for help.

“The term is de-policing,” says Gregory Baker, the city’s public safety director before he ran a federally funded, post-2001 reform agency called the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). “The guys got demoralized, tired of being beat up by everyone from the media to the federal government. They just backed all the way off. The city finance director came to me and said, ‘Look at these parking ticket revenues.’ They’d fallen off a cliff.” Crime soared.

Assistant police chief Dave Bailey, a 27-year veteran, says the resistance was natural: “It’s hard when outsiders come in and tell you how to do your job. We were still in that mode of: ‘We’re in charge, you stand back and do as you’re told.’ Our culture was, ‘Nobody talks.’ ”

Eventually the police joined the fold. Not only had the wounds begun to heel, change began taking taking hold; transparency was improved, officers were given tasers as a non-lethal option, cameras were installed in cruisers, police were trained to deal with the mentally ill, and yes, the Civilian Complaint Authority was formed. The city also formed the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, and despite initial opposition, the police embraced it and violent crime began falling.

The drive to reduce violence uses street advocates — including ex-felons — to work with gang members, helping assign mentors, find education or job training, and deliver straight talk. Some officers called the program “Hug-A-Thug,” but many have come around, especially as crime rates subsided.

Sixteen years have passed since the riots. While racial tensions exist, it’s clearly more diminished today than it was in 2001. The Collaborative Agreement, currently under review for an eventual refresh, is still in effect. A Monitor, an independent body to ensure implementation and coordination, often finds the city in partial compliance, as per a June 2007 Annual Report (the last one publicly available on their website), from items such as problem solving training, community dialogue and interaction with different segments of Cincinnati’s population, problems with CPOP (Community Problem Oriented Policing), among other things. However, whatever compliance issues existed, were being often being addressed and progress was being made.

Back to Hils vs Black.

What does this have to do with a late-night phone call by Cincinnati’s City Manager with the FOP police union president?

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “two men were arrested, one charged with a felony count of assaulting a police officer and both charged with resisting arrest. The trial is set for Dec. 11.” One of those men, named James Crawley, filed a Citizen Complaint Authority (CCA) complaint “alleging racial profiling and excessive use of force“, accusing police of tasing him four times. The CCA started an investigation.

Dan Hils, the FOP union president, asked Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters for help, which is ironic considering Cincinnati’s police union held a vote of “no confidence” in Deters only months earlier. However, Deters agreed to assist because he didn’t want the officers testifying before the criminal trial.

“They can question them all they want after the trial,” Deters said, referring to the CCA. “I am not going to subject my witnesses to some fishing expedition pretrial.” First, his office tried to convince CCA Director Kim Neal to delay interviews, documents indicate. When she resisted, the prosecutors’ office eventually asked for a temporary restraining order against the CCA in what is being described as an unprecedented move.

But city officials, including Black, the head of the CCA and even Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac, strongly disagreed with the move and the union involvement.

This led to a call from Black to Hils on Oct. 27 at 11:42 p.m.

Hils filed a grievance, categorizing the phone call as “harassment” when Black threatened to bring the U.S. Department of Justice. Mayor John Cranley, the guy celebrating victory at the beginning of this story, refuses to dismiss Black. Charges could still be filed.

In an ironic conclusion of this story, the man who filed the CCA complaint against those police officers… pleaded guilty to assault.

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