In the latest–and last–installment of WYPR’s series, On the Watch, “Cincinnati’s police reform story–a lesson for Baltimore?” reporter Mary Rose Madden looks at Cincinnati’s consent decree 15 years after it was implemented and asks if Baltimore might learn from that city’s process.
In 2001, after a white office shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Cincinnati was, like Baltimore, grappling with the results of a Department of Justice investigation that found a pattern of discriminatory practices in the police department. And, like Baltimore, Cincinnati had to figure out how to negotiate a consent decree and move forward.
The process was long and, at times, difficult. But two factors played a key role in getting the decree mapped out. First, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Black United Front–the two organizations that brought the original federal lawsuit against the city–joined in the negotiations. And the Fraternal Order of Police voted to take part as well. The result was “The Collaborative” that contained several significant components, including a complete overhaul of the “zero tolerance” policing strategy and the creation of the Citizens’ Complaint Authority, an independent group formed to investigate use of force complaints against the police department. The Authority, which reports to the city manager, not the police chief, has the power to require any officer named in a report to come in for questioning. It also keeps and makes public a “patterns report” that keeps track of the officers who have been named in more than 10 complaints in a three year period.
While this level of authority and layers of transparency are absent in Baltimore–police can refuse to answer questions in front of the Baltimore’s Citizen Review Board and any results of an investigation are sent back to the police department without ever being made public—OSI-Baltimore is committed to increasing citizen involvement in the consent decree process.
In February, we held a strategy session which brought together local activists and stakeholders with their counterparts in other cities, including Cincinnati’s Black United Front, to discuss the role of community engagement in consent decrees. More recently, OSI hosted a forum led by representatives from the DOJ that included community groups like No Boundaries Coalition, Out for Justice, Power Inside, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Hollaback! Bmore, and others, to discuss the process for creating a consent decree.
As Tara Huffman, director of OSI’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice program said in a recent interview on the Marc Steiner show, ““The community has to own the consent decree,” she said, “which means the community has to draft the consent decree.”
OSI Justice Fund grantee “On the Watch,” was a year-long newsroom series that focused on police accountability and community police relations that aired on Baltimore National Public Radio affiliate WYPR.