Fixing a Broken Police Department: The Cincinnati Experience — Part 3 of 4

Unknown-2Last Spring, The Atlantic magazine did an extensive story on Cincinnati’s experience of signing a consent decree in order to “fix” things that were apparently broken. The following is a 4-part series of posts excerpting what I believe to be the primary learnings regarding USDOJ method of using consent decrees through the federal court to improve police operations. The original article was written by Alana Semuels on May 28, 2015. This is the third of four posts.

“The changes tracked very closely to new city leadership taking office. The police chief reports to the city manager, after all. The new city manager… started attending meetings of the parties in the Collaborative, and made sure that the rancor that had characterized them before wasn’t tolerated…

“A new attitude from people at the top made all the difference. Police, at the end of the day, will do what they’re told. When they’re told to engage in problem-oriented policing, and are evaluated on how well they do that, their habits start to change.

Senior officers slowly started making it clear that officers weren’t going to get promoted if they didn’t embrace problem-solving and make an effort to listen to the community, that may be because those leaders had to answer to the independent monitor. The monitor looked closely at district reports for examples of problem-solving, held police accountable for training officers in problem-oriented policing, and constantly checked in with the Citizen Complaint Authority for police progress

“It only took three years or so for police to start implementing the changes. Cops on the ground started to realize that collaborating with the community made their jobs more pleasant, he said, and as the department realized problem-oriented policing was working, it started to push it more. Listening to the community helped too.

“The ACLU (representative), says he first realized something might actually be changing in a 2006 community meeting with police officers and members of the Collaborative. A fellow staffer reported back that community members were standing up for the police at the meeting, rather than criticizing them

“In 2007, the police department changed its sworn officer job descriptions to emphasize the role of problem-oriented policing in their work. The same year, the city and the plaintiffs of the original ACLU lawsuit agreed to extend the Collaborative one more year than was originally planned to accelerate the adoption of community problem-oriented policing. In 2008, the independent monitor issued his final report, writing that the city had made ‘significant changes in the way it polices Cincinnati…’ Slowly, officers… either left, or converted to the new mentality…

“And in a contrast to the stop-and-frisk policies that have gained popularity in cities across the country, which cast the widest possible net, Cincinnati police tried to focus their efforts more narrowly, targeting the 0.3 percent of people in the city who accounted for three-quarters of the city’s murders through a program called the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV. Through CIRV, officers talked to the family members of the violent gang members, as well as the gang members themselves, trying to help them transition out of a violent lifestyle.

“The reforms soon began to make a difference on the ground. In a county that had to reduce jail space by one-third in 2008, officials were relieved to see that Cincinnati’s focus on problem-solving was leading to fewer arrests… And in the same years, even as arrests were falling, almost every major category of crime also declined…

“Law enforcement officials… learned that more arrests do not equate to increases in public safety; rather public safety is enhanced when arrests are limited and strategically focused…

“Of course, not everything is perfect now in the Cincinnati police department…

“[One] community activist… sometimes wonders if the police reforms are meaningful without a corresponding degree of economic change. Cincinnati has more income inequality than any municipal area in Ohio except Cleveland, and fares worse on that measure than other similar cities, including Pittsburgh, Louisville, St. Louis and Indianapolis…

“In some ways, though, the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor makes Cincinnati’s police reforms in the years since 2001 even more impressive. In a city in which incomes diverged and in which residents had ample reason to stay angry with police, residents and cops instead ending up working together.

“By 2009, when RAND conducted a lengthy, data-driven report on how policing in Cincinnati had changed since the Collaborative, it concluded that relations were improving. Black residents surveyed perceived greater police professionalism in 2008 than in 2005, and less racial profiling in the later year. Crime was decreasing at the time of the report, and, according to RAND, ‘police-community relations in Cincinnati have improved in a number of ways…’ 


“Fixing a Broken Police Department” continues tomorrow with the final (Part 4 of 4) of this series.

1 Comment

  1. I wonder how much of a dent they put into the number of gang members when they tried to help kids leave the gangs. About time, police officers get told to forgot about promotion if they are not going to cooperate with the general population.

    The police need to get more involved in supporting economic and political change in their local community and in the county, state and federal elections in order to eliminate economic inequality. Wehn the community prosper economically, the police will also prosper as well.


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