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Dennard: Cincinnati PD needs zero-tolerance policy on racial slurs

Posted at 8:42 PM, Jan 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-11 01:50:58-05

CINCINNATI — Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard wants a zero-tolerance policy for police officers caught using racial slurs, she said Thursday. She also wants the two Cincinnati officers recently suspended for doing just that to be fired.

“That service is to protect and serve our entire city,” she said in a news conference. “If you can’t do that in a way that’s fair, you shouldn’t be a police officer.”

Dennard added she believes all officers in the department — not just those being disciplined — should receive ongoing implicit bias and cultural competency training to ensure they can interact respectfully with other cultural groups.

“You can’t take someone who has never been around an African-American community, plop them in the middle of an African American community and expect them to do their jobs well,” she said.

Councilman Wendell Young, who also attended the conference, backed the proposal. Dennard said she hopes the rest of City Council will do the same when she introduces a motion at a Friday meeting of the city’s law and public safety committee.

Her push for a zero-tolerance policy arises directly from a pair of 2018 incidents in which Cincinnati officers — one black, one white — were recorded using the same racial slur while arresting black suspects in two separate incidents.

Officers Donte Hill, who used the word while responding to a domestic dispute Sept. 26, and Dennis Barnette, who used the word while arresting a woman at the Brownstone Nightclub Dec. 23, were both restricted to desk duty after the incidents reached Chief Eliot Isaac’s attention.

Part of Dennard’s proposal was already on the table: On Jan. 4, Mayor John Cranley announced his intention to introduce legislation that would mandate all city employees, including police, undergo implicit and explicit bias training.

The other part — zero tolerance — could find a stumbling block in the form of the Fraternal Order of Police, she acknowledged. The police union’s president, Dan Hils, posted twice on Facebook arguing the two officers deserved to be disciplined but not fired.

“The use of racial slurs is indefensible,” he wrote Thursday of Dennard’s news conference. “What the FOP will defend is due process, reasonableness and equity in discipline and a process free of political grandstanding like this.”

The police department’s extant policy is a two-strike rule: After one offense, an officer must undergo sensitivity training and spend 40 hours suspended without pay. After two, they can be fired.

Councilman Jeff Pastor thinks that policy is enough, he said late Thursday night. According to him, calling for stricter punishment could have unforeseen consequences.

"It becomes a slippery slope," he said. "We really should follow the rules that are in place. They have a discipline policy and we should follow that discipline policy.”

Dennard, who is black, said in her news conference that councilmembers who voted against her proposal might be risking minorities' support in the ballot box.

"The African-American community has a decision to make about who represents them on City Council,” she said.

Pastor, who is also black, was unconvinced.

“To say you’re going to lose the African-American vote is a bit much," he said. "African-Americans understand that folks make mistakes."