CINCINNATI — Mayor John Cranley and police Chief Eliot Isaac want Cincinnati’s law department to fight for the preservation of a city policy ensuring diversity among Cincinnati’s police officers, even as it faces a legal challenge from a white officer alleging discrimination.
City Council will vote on Isaac and Cranley’s co-authored resolution on the subject Wednesday night.
"Our communities deserve and they demand a workforce the reflects their makeup,” Isaac, who is Black, said Tuesday. “We can't afford to take a step backwards at this time."
But the Department of Justice, which originally helped Cincinnati create the policy, has asked the federal government to re-open the issue and potentially end it. The white officer behind the lawsuit, Sgt. Erik Kohler, alleged he had been passed over for a promotion because of his race.
The policy at issue is a 1981 consent decree that sets hiring and promotion requirements for the Cincinnati Police Department. Under the decree, 34% of all new hires must be Black, 23% must be women, and 25% of officers promoted must be either Black or women.
Cincinnati implemented the consent decree in response to a 1980 Department of Justice lawsuit alleging the city violated the Civil Rights Act and federal anti-discrimination provisions by failing to promote Black people and women.
Similar measures were enacted in other cities in the ‘80s, but many no longer exist.
“I see departments across the country that have lost such decrees, and we see a time where recruiting and retention across the nation is at an all-time difficult process,” he said. “The loss of this one would further exacerbate that problem. We need to attract people to law enforcement. We need to attract talented people. This is one way that we can ensure that we continue to get a diverse workforce.”
Isaac and Cranley drafted a resolution asking the Cincinnati law department to “do everything they can do to preserve it,” Cranley said.
Opponents of the consent decree such as attorney Chris Wiest, who represents Kohler, said it makes hiring and promotion decisions fundamentally unfair.
“We don’t need to discriminate on the color of skin to give people a leg up anymore,” Wiest said. “They’re able to compete fairly.”
The Rev. Lesley Jones, a Black pastor who founded her own Cincinnati-based ministry, said she supports the consent decree and pointed out its diversity requirements don’t actually match the demographics of the city. If they did, they’d be higher: 42% Black, not 34%.
"Our police force should mirror what our community looks like, and in a city where we're almost 50/50 and we have a police department that doesn't reflect that is certainly telling,” she said.
Isaac said that element of reflection is important psychologically for police and the communities in which they work.
"I think it helps build better relationships,” he said. “It shows that we are no different than the community we serve. We are part of that community. We are your coaches, your neighbors, the people you see in the grocery stores. We're all in this together, so I think it's critical that we have a police department that is made up of how the community looks as well."