WCPO I-Team spent months researching how law enforcement agencies handle accountability

One of our most important roles at WCPO is to look out for you.

We take seriously our job as a watchdog on those with power, especially in government.

That’s why we fight for open government records and meetings. We spend considerable staff time investigating how your tax dollars are being used.

And we also find out if people in power are being held accountable, if the systems of governments and law enforcement are working fairly like they should.

That’s why chief investigative reporter Craig Cheatham began looking into tips that said some law enforcement officers were not being held accountable the way regular people – you and I – might be.

In May, Cheatham produced two stories on how the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office disciplines deputies.

One focused on how the sheriff’s office handles deputies charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

A second story focused on how complaints of excessive force were handled.

Experts were concerned about how the sheriff’s office handled these situations.

"It's sends a message that you can do anything you want and nothing bad will happen," said Christine Cole, vice president and executive director of the Crime and Justice Institute. Her organization provides nonpartisan policy analysis, consulting and research on public safety. "It's really hard for the community to trust the police if the police can't even trust the system in which they work ... to be consistent and just and have integrity.”

After the stories aired on 9 On Your Side and published on WCPO.com, a group of WCPO journalists including myself, News Director Chip Mahaney and Cheatham met to discuss continuing the investigation.

We wanted to collect records from across the region to see how different law enforcement agencies handle disciplining their own.

Some will accuse us of being “anti-cop,” but our motives are simple: We want to make sure the people who protect us and enforce our laws are worthy of the high level of trust the public gives them.

Over the last six months, the WCPO I-Team has collected records from 40 different police departments and reviewed thousands of disciplinary cases.

We didn't know where our reporting would lead us, but we wanted to find out how these incidents were handled and report that so that everyone could see -- for good or bad.

We’ve discovered some law enforcement agencies completely refused to provide these records – even though by law these are public records.

Among those that did provide records there can be a massive difference in how cases are handled from one agency to another.

We have created an extensive database that allows you to look at these records.

And we have uncovered a series of stories that we will publish on WCPO.com and air on 9 On Your Side throughout November. The stories look at how law enforcement agencies handle some of these serious issues.

The series begins with a look at law enforcement officers accused of breaking the law who never get charged with crimes. Next, we look at law enforcement officers who are caught lying. Some get disciplined but some do not. It depends in part on where they work.

We hope that by bringing these incidents and records to light you will better understand how law enforcement officers are treated when they break the law or violate policy. If you have concerns about these issues, we hope you will communicate to your elected officials and/or the heads of these law enforcement agencies.

As always, we look forward to your feedback.

You can reach me at mike.canan@wcpo.com or News Director Chip Mahaney at chip@wcpo.com.

Mike Canan is editor of WCPO.com. Contact him at mike.canan@wcpo.com. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.

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