Cincinnati, DOJ sign police force pact

MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent

WASHINGTON, April 12 (UPI) -- The Justice Department ratified what it calls a "historic" settlement agreement with Cincinnati Friday to curb the use of excessive force by city police.

Attorney General John Ashcroft was in Cincinnati to sign the pact.


The Justice Department settlement came after an earlier lawsuit against the city by the American Civil Liberties Union was settled earlier this week.

The ACLU suit accused city police of harassing black suspects. Fifteen black suspects have been killed in confrontations with Cincinnati police since 1985.

Both settlements also came a little more than a year after the fatal police shooting of Timothy Thomas, 19, which set off the worst riots in the city in decades.

The officer involved in the shooting of the unarmed black man was cleared of wrongdoing. Thomas was shot as he ran from the officer to avoid arrest on misdemeanor charges, mostly traffic warrants.

In prepared remarks for Friday's signing ceremony in the city, Ashcroft said he was announcing an "unprecedented agreement between the Justice Department and the city of Cincinnati that improves law enforcement and helps prevent the kind of tragic deaths of citizens and police officers that have caused so much pain in Cincinnati over the past several years."


The attorney general said the images of last year's riots led him to direct the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division "to review the practices, procedures and training of the Cincinnati Police Department and to advise me on steps we could take to help improve law enforcement services in Cincinnati."

Under the terms of the agreement, the Cincinnati Police Department will revise its use-of-force policies, emphasizing that "de-escalation techniques, such as disengagement, area containment, surveillance, waiting out a subject, summoning reinforcements or calling in specialized units may be an appropriate response to a situation."

The department will also mostly ban the use of "choke holds," and advise its officers that excessive force could lead to prosecution or civil liability.

The agreement also puts curbs on the department's canine units, requiring handlers to receive supervisor approval and issue a verbal warning before dogs are released. Dogs are to be prevented from biting unless there is an imminent danger or the suspect is on the point of escaping.

As for "chemical irritants" such as pepper spray, police must give verbal warnings when appropriate and give a suspect a "reasonable time to comply with the officer's orders."

Non-lethal but injury-causing beanbag shotguns and 40 mm foam rounds may only be used to subdue a suspect when there is a danger of imminent harm or prevent an escape. The weapons may not be used to prevent theft or minor vandalism, and their use in crowds is limited.


Other provisions of the settlement compel the department to document each use of force and to assess whether the force was appropriate. "CPD supervisors will be held accountable for the quality of their investigations," the settlement said.

The department also pledges to make complaint forms more widely available and to keep officers from discouraging those who want to make complaints. Those complaining will also be kept up to date on the investigation of their complaints, the settlement said.

The city also will "develop the new Citizen Complaint Authority, which will replace the Office of Municipal Investigations and have jurisdiction over all complaints alleging excessive force, the improper pointing of firearms at persons, unreasonable searches and seizures, and discrimination."

The department also pledges to immediately implement better training for recruits and officers, with an emphasis on better decision-making.

An independent monitor will be chosen to review compliance with the agreement, according to the settlement.

Though scheduled to last five years, the agreement could end "earlier if the parties agree that the CPD and the city are in substantial compliance with each of the provisions for at least two years."

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