CINCINNATI – Iris Roley helped reform the Cincinnati Police Department after an officer killed an unarmed 19-year-old black man in 2001, leading to riots.
Now Roley says the city has allowed some of the progress it made in proper policing and community relations to stall, and it needs to reprioritize it.
In particular, Roley, who worked on the original Collaborative Agreement in 2002, sees an urgency to beef up the Citizens Complaint Authority in light of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and the protests it sparked.
“Tons of complaints have come through in the last couple of days,” Roley said.
Adding to the urgency, three CCA employees are currently furloughed, as well as the sustainability manager, who was hired to oversee the Collaborative Agreement, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts.
The Citizen Complaint Authority is an independent board that investigates charges of serious police misconduct. The CCA has the same power as the police Internal Investigations Section and reports to the city manager.
The CCA was a product of the Collaborative Agreement, which followed the shooting of Timothy Thomas in 2001 and several other fatal encounters between black men and police in previous years. After a Department of Justice review, the city and FOP entered an agreement with Roley's group, Cincinnati Black United Front, and ACLU of Ohio to make multiple changes in how police use force and deal with minority communities.
The agreement was designed, in large part, to eliminate racism in policing and add more citizen oversight to that department.
Recently, Roley has been helping with the Collaborative Agreement Refresh that began in 2017. The Refresh was meant to evaluate what’s already in place and strengthen some of the products of the agreement.
“We've just begun to scratch the surface. There's a lot of work to do,” Roley told WCPO 9.
But the pandemic and budget cuts are affecting their efforts, same as with many other city programs and departments.
“There’s been a huge layoff with the city, so there hasn’t been much productivity,” Roley said.
Roley says the CCA needs to be fully funded and supported, and she has the backing of City Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld said the fact the head of the Refresh was furloughed shows a lack of commitment to the agreement.
“If this really was deemed essential and imperative, a moral imperative for our city, you wouldn’t furlough the person who is charged with leading and implementing and guiding the Refresh,” Sittenfeld said.
Roley is demanding the same support from the city manager and police chief.
“We just gave them part of the demands last Friday on a very public Zoom call,” Roley said.
In the call, Roley said it’s important “to make sure that the Citizen Complaint Authority is where it needs to be, so that if people have complaints, that they are able to do it without any type of fear.”
City Manager Patrick Duhaney, though, didn’t make any promises.
“The city is in a difficult place right now,” Duhaney said, referring to estimates of a looming $90 million budget deficit.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to bring those things back,” Duhaney said. “It’s going to be difficult, but we do intend that the CCA will be there.”
In a statement Thursday, Duhaney told WCPO the city's sustainability manager will be returning next week.
He explained, "In light of COVID-19, the City’s Collaborative Agreement Sustainability Manager asked for some personal time off. The request was granted. He will return to work starting Monday.”
Mayor John Cranley said furloughed employees should start returning as the city works through the budget process over the next month.