Photo Credit: Mike Simmons/Getty Images
Reporter: John Hockenberry
Published In: The TakeAway, June 25, 2014
Summary: Following serious riots in 2001, Cincinnati significantly improved relations between its police force and its citizens. How did they achieve this and what can other cities learn from it?
Why We’re Highlighting This Article: After riots erupted in Ferguson, Missouri this past August following the shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black male, relationships between police forces and their communities have been at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Unfortunately, that relationship is often fraught. Earlier this summer before events unfolded in Ferguson, the Takeaway did a week-long series on this dynamic between police departments and their surrounding communities. After the series looked at several problem-based stories (e.g. a recent police shoot-out in Cleveland), this 6-minute radio piece by John Hockenberry focused on what one nearby city, Cincinnati, is doing right.
Changes in Cincinnati’s community-police relations began following 2001 riots over police shooting and killing a 19-year-old African American man. Riots erupted, costing the city $13.7 million. Hockenberry explores the history of the relationship between the two groups, interviewing a 27-year veteran of the police department, Councilman Cecil Thomas, who was there at the time of the riots and has an on-the-ground understanding of the issue. Hockenberry does a great job exploring the political and social context behind the problem, the breaking point (the riots), and then the context in which the relationship improved, something that’s always important as you seek to understand whether a solution is replicable in other places (and contexts).
The success of the solution basically comes down to one decision: that Cincinnati opted to have the Department of Justice operate as a mediator between the citizens and the police, as opposed to issuing recommendations about what the city should do to repair relations.
“The citizens, the police, we all sat down at the table and said, “What are we doing wrong in the 21st century that we would have civil unrest?”” said Councilman Thomas.
It’s a great solutions piece also because he focuses not only on the changes in policy enacted at a high level, but how behavior actually changed on the ground. The city implemented programs like “Citizens on Patrol,” where officers train citizens to be extra eyes and ears in their community. Court Watch allowed citizens to have a say in sentencing their neighbors who committed crimes. According to Councilman Thomas, this collaborative effort has resulted in “an excellent working relationship between our citizens and our police.”