CINCINNATI -- The year before Cincinnati signed the Collaborative Agreement -- a pact between the city, the Fraternal Order of Police, the ACLU and the Cincinnati Black United Front -- it seemed as though the city was tearing itself apart. The 2001 shooting death of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a white police officer sparked several days of riots and long-lasting boycotts of the city.
The agreement, which lasted from 2002 to 2008, was a promise to do better, re-evaluate problem-oriented policing practices and build trust between authorities and minorities. Most of the reforms remain in place today, but leadership changes and budget challenges over the years have affected some of the priorities, according to officials. By refreshing the agreement, they hope to identify any gaps and challenges and improve on successes.
"Given the issues surrounding police-community relations across the nation, it is more important now than ever that Cincinnati remain ahead of the curve," City Manager Harry Black said. "The strong partnerships and experience we’ve worked to establish over the years has positioned us to move the needle forward."
There is less crime and fewer arrests now than when the Collaborative Agreement was signed, according to city officials. And there are no riots in the streets today, but that doesn't mean the work of racial equality is done, said Iris Roley. She was part of the Black United Front in 2002, and she'll be one of many weighing in again as Cincinnati refreshes the Collaborative Agreement.
"We have not yet answered the question: Can we have public safety and racial fairness?" Roley said. "The world as we know and around us in the United States is exploding with police-community problems, and Cincinnati has been there."
The Collaborative refresh will ask experts, other city departments and ordinary Cincinnatians for their thoughts on improving police-community relationships in the Queen City, where shades of the Thomas shooting haunt the court proceedings in former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing's second murder trial.
"You have to take advantage of opportunities," Pastor Ennis Tate said. "This is an opportunity. While it's a negative one, we're hoping the city will stay charged about the need for strong positive community-police relations despite what we're dealing with now with the Ray Tensing trial."
Attorney Saul Green, who served as the court-appointed independent monitor for five years after the agreement was signed, will be coming back in to help the city with the refresher.
"We didn't stop with a declaration," Green said. "We insisted on a plan going forward to sustain the effort, so this community has always been about not just reaching the initial finish line but, 'How do you keep things going?'"
Some of the Collaborative's improvements have slipped in the years between 2008 and today; the WCPO I-Team found in 2016 that an early warning system meant to detect possible racial profiling in traffic stops ended years ago. It should return in January.
"This administration is committed to the ongoing actualization -- the full actualization -- of the Collaborative Agreement," City Manager Harry Black said in Nov. 2016. "We are working very diligently to bring the city back into full visibility and transparency."
According to city officials, the Collaborative review and refresh will focus on four main areas:
- "Evaluation and Accountability. Establishing and implementing a standardized, accountable evaluation process on the plan’s provisions including community problem-oriented policing, biased-free policing, arrests, risk management, training, the Citizens Complain Authority (CCA), and community input.
- "Community Engagement. Enhancing the role of the CCA by utilizing them as a neutral party to ensure strong community engagement as an essential component in managing public safety and community problem oriented policing.
- "Independent Review. Mr. Green and his team will conduct a CA review and provide the City with a progress report identifying areas for further scrutiny, recommendations and feedback.
- "Action Steps. The City will work with Mr. Green, community and CA agreement stakeholders to develop specific action steps and completion timetable to include a reporting template."
Police Chief Eliot Isaac said the work done as part of the agreement has transformed the police department from 15 years ago.
"I'm very proud of the work that's been done in the past decade-and-a-half by the members of the department and members of the community," he said.
Read a city memo and the agreement below: