Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell attending DOJ policing forum next week

Duo to discuss improving minority relations

CINCINNATI – Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and Mayor John Cranley will attend a Department of Justice Forum next week, touting the city’s progress on policing and minority community relations.

The DOJ forum, titled “Strengthening the Relationship between Law Enforcement and Communities of Color,” will bring together law enforcement, community activists, civil rights organizations and civic leaders from across the country, to identify methods to bolster engagement in communities of color, according to the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services office. The one-day forum is scheduled for Friday, April 4.

A variety of DOJ officials will speak during the forum as well as civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will also be in attendance.

Cranley and Blackwell are expected to discuss programs and initiatives that highlight the improved relations with minority groups in Cincinnati, such as the growing African and Latino populations in the city’s west side.

The event will be hosted at the Ford Foundation building on Manhattan's east side.

Since the 2001 riots, a litany of violence-reduction initiatives and police protocols have been put in place. Stemming from the 2002 Collaborative Agreement with the DOJ, among the Cincinnati Black United Front, the American Civil Liberties Union, the police union and the city, police have adopted community-oriented and evidenced-based policing strategies.

That same year, The Citizens Complaint Authority was created to conduct impartial reviews of all serious uses of force by police officers. Officers now go through training to deal with people who suffer from mental-health illnesses and the use of Tasers had widened.

The Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence was established in 2007 to engage people that are known to police to be involved in criminal activity. The idea is warn street groups that if they continue to engage in violence, the full power of the law will come down on them. CIRV has experienced recent cuts in funding, but both Cranley and Blackwell have pledged to bolster the program.

“Through our work with the Collaborative Agreement, Cincinnati is looked upon as a model for improving police-community relations,” Cranley said Thursday. “I think it’s important to tell our story and share ideas with police departments from around the country.”

Cranley helped negotiate the Collaborative Agreement.

“We brought a lot of diverse groups together, like the Black United Front and the FOP, to reach a consensus about how to improve our police department in a way that was fair to everyone,” Cranley said.

Race relations have come a long way since the riots of 2001, but the community still has a long way to go, Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said Thursday night.

“The Collaborative Agreement while it was unfortunate, it was necessary,” Blackwell said. “it’s done so many good things for the community. Cincinnati was forced to collaborate with people, and it was probably painful. And I’m speaking as an outsider.”

Although gaps still exist in education and economic well being, Blackwell said important changes have occurred in the last decade, but policing problems in the past were based on factors more than race.

“It is not always about race, a lot times it’s about class, so I think it’s important for police officers to serve the entire community with a sense of fairness and equitable treatment,” Blackwell said.

Under former Police Chief James Craig, an External Advisory Board was established, consisting of active community and business leaders. An Internal Advisory Board made up of both civilian and sworn department personnel meet regularly to discuss in-house issues.

“I don’t know of any other city in America has the engagement in the community that Cincinnati police does, I mean that,” Blackwell said. “I really think it’s evident when you talk about the overwhelming amount of collaboration that has been developed.”

Under Blackwell, a robust youth engagement platform also seeks to engage minority groups at a younger age. At each weekly H3Cincy basketball program, hosted at the Busch, Evanston and Lincoln recreation centers, teens and young people are required to attend conflict-resolution, character training and financial literacy workshops.

The sessions run from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. each Friday.

Blackwell is also undertaking the expansion of the police Explorer and Cadet programs. He wants Explorers to become police officers. After about one year, exemplary Explorers will be paid employees of the department, and after another year, they will be guaranteed a place in the next police academy recruit class.

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