CINCINNATI - How much has Cincinnati and the Tri-State changed since the 2001 unrest gave national attention to strong growing tensions between minority and African-American communities, local police and government leaders?
You might be surprised to hear that a number of African-American leaders say a lot has changed over the last 10 years.
They say not only have police-community relations improved significantly, but work is still being done, often behind the scenes, to make sure both the community and law enforcement are talking to one another and working together to make the Tri-State a safer place to live for everyone.
Some, however, are concerned whether the passage of time may start to dull some of their efforts to bring police and their communities together. They warn that unless we continue to work to reduce crime together, we could fall into similar patterns and attitudes that may have contributed to the unrest we saw in 2001.
The Reverend Damon Lynch Jr. and his son, Reverend Damon Lynch III, have been actively trying to reduce crime in Over-the-Rhine and around Cincinnati, even before the 2001 uprising. Their church, New Prospect Baptist Church, has been actively buying guns off the street and melting them down, to get them out of the hands of young adults and teenagers.
"Since 2001, we've seen, not a dramatic, but a change for the better," Rev. Lynch Jr. said. "I'm always an eternal optimist and I think since 2001, the police and the community, they have a better relationship."
One of the groups that has been working to bring the community and Cincinnati police together works through the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati. It's called the Community Police Partnering Center. It was created in 2002, out of the Collaborative Agreement and the Cincinnati CAN commission. The goal of the Police Partnering Center is to develop and put in place 'effective police strategies to reduce crime and disorder, as it increases trust and engagement between police and the neighborhoods they patrol.
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One of the original members of the Police Partnering Center is retired Procter and Gamble executive Al DeJarnette. Now, he is still actively working with the Center and the Cincinnati police.
"Cincinnati started out with a great gulf between the African-American community and the police department," DeJarnette said.
DeJarnette says the Police Partnering Center brought in members of the community to work closely with Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher and his community policing officers, forging an alliance to fight crime together in their respective communities. He says that cooperation got community members and police officers to look at each other as partners to protect their neighborhoods.
"I think it helped to lower some of the anxieties that members of community have, some of the distrust and over time, there have been relationships built, that I don't think could have been built, without that facilitation," DeJarnette said.
One of the first orders of business for the Police Partnering Center was to evaluate how Cincinnati police used force to bring dangerous situations under control. There was concern officers didn't have many tools, other than their guns, to control and arrest potential suspects.
During this time, other police departments started to give their officers tasers to stop and control suspects in violent situations, where guns might have been an officer's only alternative. In addition, officers got additional training and support for using conversation and questions to calm emotions that might have triggered a violent reaction or outburst from a suspect.
The new plan was to have officers use as little "force" as possible to bring a situation under control.
"And I think what has happened over the course of this time is, has been a reduction in the threshold of the use of force," DeJarnette said. "That we have lowered the threshold to the point, and used the minimum level of force required to resolve a situation peacefully. I think that was part of the progress made."
As a result of all that talk between the community and Cincinnati police, DeJarnette said he definitely feels a number of lives have been saved.
"Yes, there has been a significant difference in the use of force and its played out in terms of greater peace in the community, and a better police department," DeJarnette added.
Another effort to get the community to work together with Cincinnati police is the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence or CIRV . It was started in 2007 to look for ways to reduce gun violence, modeled after the Boston Gun Project from the 1990s. Homicides in Cincinnati started to drop dramatically in 2007