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Police-Community Collaboration Has Helped Kept Peace In Cincinnati


Cincinnati has seen protests - peaceful - since an unarmed black motorist, Samuel DuBose, was shot and killed by a white campus police officer. For the last 14 years, Cincinnati has relied on an agreement between citizens, police and the officers' union to limit the use of force, increase transparency and prevent racial profiling. But the University of Cincinnati's police force wasn't part of that collaboration. Now they're reconsidering. Ann Thompson with member station WVXU in Cincinnati reports.


ANN THOMPSON, BYLINE: The Friday Fusion concert at Washington Park drew a crowd of people who were glad to unwind after a busy week. Some people were chatting with a couple of police officers, including officer Todd Greene. His beat is a few blocks away, and he emphasized it's important to become acquainted with the kids and adults you're trying to protect.

TODD GREENE: It's imperative that you know your people, you know your business owners. And it makes your job a lot easier.

THOMPSON: The relationship was different a decade and a half ago, when Cincinnati police were the subject 14 racial profiling lawsuits. In a period of five years, 15 African-Americans died at the hands of police. One of them was Timothy Thomas, a teenager who was not armed, and that brought three days of civil unrest. His death helped inspire the community to negotiate a solution to the problem. A federal mediator was brought in to work out a binding agreement between the police, the officers' union and the community. Civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein was one of the negotiators.

AL GERHARDSTEIN: I used to carry around three giant binders, and they each had a blue ribbon commission report. And each of those reports followed some sort of bad thing the police had done, and a bunch of people in suits held hearings and then made recommendations. And then the recommendations were ignored.

THOMPSON: In 2001, from the spring to the fall, 3,500 people from eight different stakeholder groups worked together to hammer out what they called the Collaborative Agreement. It limits the use of force, creates transparency with the Citizens' Complaint Authority and looks for patterns that could turn into trouble.

GERHARDSTEIN: When we have a location that's a particular hotspot for crime, in other cities they'll use that data to draw police officers in big numbers to come down and arrest a bunch of people.

THOMPSON: In Cincinnati, police ask what is it about that location that's causing crime? Cleanup crews are called in. Workers install new lighting and teach landlords to select better tenants. People started noticing a difference, people like Bert Kinsey, who sells incense along Reading Road in Avondale, a neighborhood of civil unrest in 2001.

BERT KINSEY: Yeah, it's gotten better. I mean, it's not a lot of isolated incidents where they get out of hand with. So I mean, the Cincinnati police doing better.

THOMPSON: The recent shooting of the black motorist by a white University of Cincinnati officer had people wondering about the Collaborative Agreement. The officer, Ray Tensing, was patrolling off campus under an agreement with Cincinnati police, but the University is not part of the Collaborative Agreement. UC is considering joining it. Reverend Damon Lynch III says the agreement works if people are periodically reminded about it.

DAMON LYNCH III: We have to continually tell people that they have the right to file a complaint, tell people that we do now track officers who get numerous complaints and want - and they expect disciplinary action against them.

THOMPSON: Cincinnati's mayor, John Cranley, emphasizes change was not immediate, but he thinks the agreement is a good model for other cities.

JOHN CRANLEY: The cultural change of our police department took about five years, and so I would tell other communities that they're going to have to be very patient.

THOMPSON: One city interested is Ferguson, Mo. The collaborative stakeholders are scheduled to travel there September 9. Reverend Lynch is going. He says the document is filled with legalese, but in Cincinnati, the goal was to make it come to life and better people's lives. For NPR News, I'm Ann Thompson in Cincinnati. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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With more than 20 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.