CINCINNATI – A year after Cincinnati erupted in riots over the police shooting of a black man, the city agreed to restrictions on the use of force and announced plans Wednesday to establish an independent agency that would investigate police brutality complaints.
The moves are intended to satisfy U.S. Justice Department concerns and settle a lawsuit accusing the police force of harassing blacks for the past 30 years. The settlement of the lawsuit still must be approved by the various parties by Tuesday to avoid a trial.
The independent agency would have seven citizen members appointed by the mayor and City Council, and would have its own investigative staff. It would replace a city investigative office as well as an existing citizen police review panel that has no staff.
The new panel would investigate such things as shootings, deaths in custody and other major uses of force.
The settlement of the lawsuit was released after days of negotiations between city lawyers, the police union and parties that filed the lawsuit, including black activists and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Settlement talks were joined last week by representatives of the Justice Department, which is investigating police department procedures and has recommended numerous changes to enhance training, improve up recordkeeping and make policies clearer.
To satisfy federal concerns, the city separately proposed prohibiting the use of chokeholds except where deadly force is authorized; informing officers that they risk prosecution for use of excessive force; and limiting the use of chemical spray.
In both sets of concessions, the city did not admit any wrongdoing by its police force.
The settlement "will go a long way in improving the trust that the community has in the police," said William Martin, the city's chief lawyer.
The settlement calls for ending the adversarial relationship between police and the community and getting them to work together to reduce crime and solve problems.
Implementing the proposals could cost $5 million, including at least $1.25 million in the first year, for equipment, police staffing and operation of a citizen review panel, officials said.
Councilman Jim Tarbell said the agreement will mean a lot more work for police, but he thinks it will be worth the effort.
"It's basically community-oriented policing, which I think we're all for," Tarbell said. "More out-of-the-car and onto-the-street, getting more active in community meetings, more physical presence in walking the beat."
The city also proposed the creation of a group of specially trained officers to respond to incidents involving the mentally ill. That move stems from a 1997 case in which a man threatening officers with a brick was shot and killed by police.
The harassment lawsuit seeks a court order permanently prohibiting racial profiling by police. The department denies targeting suspects by race.
Three weeks after the lawsuit was filed last year, a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black man, touching off three days of riots. Dozens of people were injured and more than 800 were arrested in the worst racial violence in Cincinnati since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Stephen Roach, the officer involved, was acquitted of all charges.