By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
The City of Cincinnati hosted an open house and informational forum at CityHall on April 14 to kick-off the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Collaborative Agreement (CA).
The open house gave participants the opportunity to learn about the history of the CA, equipment advances in the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD), current community problem-solving projects, CPD recruiting, CPD Youth Services, and summer CA training sessions.
The Collaborative Agreement is now known nationwide as a shining example of how to combat discrimination and excessive force in law enforcement.
City officials are using the event of last Thursday to outline plans to commemorate the Collaborative Agreement this summer. Tentative plans call for a series of information sessions and “community celebrations.” The plan calls for the discussion of multiple aspects of local policing, including everything from equipment advances, current community problem-solving projects, officer recruitment and the Cincinnati Police Department’s work with young peopleThe celebration includes practicing what is preached:
• Recognition in September of five model problem solving projects where police and community work together;
• Refresh the Collaborative initiative to reduce arrests and racial disparity, while promoting public safety.
• Two-day seminar on police reforms and community celebration planned in September.
The Black United Front formed in 2000 as the community grappled with allegations of police brutality, leading to the deaths of more than a dozen Black men over five years. The sides alleged racial discrimination and excessive force used by the CPD.
In 2001, Cincinnati police shot and killed Timothy Thomas, an unarmed African American teenager, which sparked civil unrest in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
A federal district court established the Collaborative Agreement to bring both parties to the table. It set standards for an independent board to hear citizen complaints about alleged acts of police misconduct (Citizen Complaint Authority), established a community problem-oriented policing strategy, and required the collection of data on police activity, such as use of force, to ensure bias-free policing.
This agreement—and the subsequent work to institutionalize its recommendations—became a best-in-class model for communities throughout the nation.
“People were not happy with us,” said Interim Cincinnati Police Chief Teresa Theetge. “Now those people are sitting at the table with us.” She pointed to the City’s seal and the Latin words “Juncta Juvant,’ meaning “Better Together.”
In April 2002, the City of Cincinnati entered into the historic CA in order to resolve a class action lawsuit, brought by the Cincinnati Black United Front and American Civil Liberties Union, which alleged racial discrimination and excessive force in policing. It became the largest racial profiling case in U.S. history, said then-City Council member Alicia Reece.
The CA was entered in Federal Court and included the City, the Cincinnati Black United Front the, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and various community stakeholders. The City also signed a Memorandum of Agreement on police reform with the United States Department of Justice, with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft present for the signing.
The focus included the development, implementation and monitoring of:
• A Community Problem-Oriented Policing strategy;
• A mutual accountability evaluation plan;
• Use of force policies, incident documentation, investigations and reviews;
• Fair, equitable and courteous treatment for all including a commitment to bias-free policing; and
• Independent civilian review process, establishment of the Citizen’s Complaint Authority (CCA).
The City developed a CA Plan in order to ensure sustainability and institutionalization of the recommendations once federal monitoring concluded in 2008.
In June of 2017, the City voluntarily revisited the Collaborative Agreement through a ‘refresh’ process. The CA Refresh remains in place to evaluate and strengthen products put into place in 2002. Twenty years later, the City continues to reinforce the CA.
While federal monitoring concluded in 2008, the city and the other parties agreed to continue working together, even though the formal Collaborative Agreement had ended.
The death of George Floyd in 2020 once again shined a bright spotlight on Cincinnati as local protests resulted in questions about police funding and some of CPD’s enforcement strategies.
Since taking office in January, Mayor Aftab Pureval has spoken multiple times about the city’s commitment to the Collaborative Agreement and ensuring its foundations remain strong.
In February, Pureval announced a new partnership with Iris Roley, a founder of the Black United Front, to facilitate community engagement and to “push forward the mission of the collaborative agreement and the refresh.”
In a release, the city said the “refresh remains in place” to “evaluate and strengthen products put into place in 2002,” the release said. “Twenty years later, the City continues to reinforce the (collaborative agreement).”
“The largest milestone of this agreement is that the Black community was asked, ‘How did it feel about its policing?’ And that had never been done before,” said Iris Roley, an adviser to the city manager’s office focusing on issues related to the Collaborative Agreement and the city’s process to identify a new police chief.
Roley was one of the central organizers of the Collaborative Agreement. She has been a prominent, longtime organizer with the Cincinnati Black United Front, a social justice collective whose activism helped serve as a catalyst for the agreement.
“That in itself was a huge milestone, because people needed to hear from Black people in the city of Cincinnati,” Roley said.
The 2001 lawsuit alleging racial profiling and biased policing was in response to over a dozen high-profile police brutality cases involving Black men in the city in the years prior.
“There was really a need to bring light to the situation Cincinnati. But we did it through the Collaborative Agreement, which means that, at the end, we were going to come out with changes,” said New Prospect Baptist Church Rev. Damon Lynch III, another prominent organizer and member of the Black United Front, in a WCPO-Channel 9 interview. “We were going to come out with reforms, but we wanted to come out as a better city.”
The plan reinvented Cincinnati’s philosophy of conducting law enforcement. In addition to identifying police officers and residents as change agents who could provide solutions to conflict, it codified goals to build more trust and respect between the two groups. It also enhanced officers’ education, oversight, monitoring, recruitment and accountability, pushed back on biased policing, and better informed the public on law enforcement operations.
“(We) gathered all the stakeholders together to approach a problem in a way that will minimize arrests while maximizing public safety and it’s worked,” Attorney Al Gerhardstein said in the WCPO story by Monique John. “Since we started, arrests for felonies and misdemeanors are down 50% in Cincinnati, and public safety has not been compromised at all. So we are we want to stay on that trajectory.”
Gerhardstein was another key organizer in the formation of the Collaborative Agreement. He said he had already been filing lawsuits against the police for two decades by the time he began working with Roley and Lynch.
“The many paragraphs of the agreement became the policies and procedures of the department,” Gerhardstein said. “Those became the training materials for officers. Those also became the job description for the officers and the standards on which people get promoted. So we infiltrated all of the markers for what an organization does in order to have staying power.”
Roley is slated to play a key role in expanding and reinforcing the mandate set by the Collaborative Agreement through a “Refresh” effort from the city. She, Gerhardstein and Lynch said they are all proud and encouraged by how strongly the Collaborative Agreement’s mission to eliminate excessive, biased policing has sustained in Cincinnati despite its nationwide struggle — particularly in Black communities.
“This is a huge opportunity to come together in a very intentful way to get the work done,” Roley said. “We all understand that in order to change systems and cultures, minds, hearts and souls, it’s going to take a while. It has been tough, and we didn’t get here overnight.
“What we are celebrating is a coming out of the darkness into the light.”
City Councilman Scotty Johnson, who was president of the Sentinels Police Association, an African American police organization, at the time, said, “It has been 20 years of sacrifice and struggle, but we are all better for it, and it has made my job as a policeman a lot easier. We are now using police/community problem solving (in handling issues) and treating people like people.”
Joe Mallory, President of Cincinnati NAACP, said the Collaborative Agreement was not warmly embraced by Cincinnati police in its early years, but they eventually warmed up to it. “It is a strategy to make the city better, but, like voting rights, we have to continue to fight for its principles.