Make the Cops Put it in Writing

Here’s a simple, common sense way for Cincinnati City Council to begin holding the police department to the same standards that apply to other city departments — and in a method that should be easy for police and involves no political risk for council.

When Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. or other police supervisors appear before city council to give a presentation — or what police refer to as a “report” — have the police click the “print” button on their computers and actually produce a hard copy of the document.

It’s a routine practice for police command staff to appear before city council and give a Power Point presentation on a computer projection screen, then depart, leaving no official record of what was claimed in the “report.” Such a practice isn’t tolerated by other municipal departments, who must leave hard copies of any documents with the clerk of council’s office for public scrutiny.

At Tuesday’s meeting of city council’s Law and Public Safety Committee, police used a Power Point presentation to justify their position that Cincinnati’s stricter penalties for marijuana possession should be indefinitely extended. Among police claims, supervisors said Part 1 crimes decreased since the tougher penalties went into effect, and the fines levied against the marijuana offenders outweighed the city’s costs of prosecuting them by an almost 5-to-1 margin.

After the meeting, local activist Michael Earl Patton tried to get a copy of the police report but was told it wasn’t available, as he chronicles on the Cincinnati Beacon blog. This isn’t an isolated incident: Since I began covering City Hall in January 1999, I’ve been told the same thing about police Power Point presentations on numerous occasions after public meetings.

Now, let’s examine those police claims.

Part 1 crimes are more serious offenses such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and automobile theft. Although Part 1 crimes overall decreased between 2005 and 2006, the number of murders, robberies and burglaries actually increased. Also, in a classic “apples and oranges” comparison, police offered no evidence tying the tougher marijuana penalties to the drops in other categories.

Also, police offered no hard data about the fines. The only written report on file at City Hall was authored by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., who states that costs to prosecute the marijuana cases more than doubled during comparable 11-month periods, from $30,500 to $71,700.

Meanwhile, Dohoney’s report notes that the reason council initially gave to enact the tougher penalties — that it would help confiscate illegal handguns from offenders — didn’t hold up in reality. Of 3,285 people cited in the first year, only 62 guns were confiscated. Instead, the tougher penalties appear to be a method to generate additional revenue for police and disproportionately impacts low-income people.

Requiring the police department to leave a paper trail isn’t just good public policy.

In a February 2004 appearance before city council, Assistant Police Chief Richard Janke assured officials that police overtime spending amounted to 4.2 percent of the department’s budget in 2002 and 4.6 percent in 2003. After then-Councilman Christopher Smitherman challenged those figures and pushed for an audit, it was determined overtime spending for those years actually were 6.5 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively. The actual figures exceed the 6 percent benchmark considered the standard, established by the National Institute of Justice.

Also, Janke told city council during his 2004 appearance that any officer who worked more than 100 hours in off-duty security details in one month is investigated by the department to see if on-duty performance is being affected. In fact, the audit concluded such investigations weren’t being done on a regular basis.

The police department’s bookkeeping practices — like many of the department’s records — are a Byzantine maze, and the audit recommended they be overhauled.

Accountability is essential for any government agency, and requiring written reports is one method for meeting that goal. Council should insist on the Cincinnati Police Department submitting all documents in writing, just as it does with all other departments.

Let’s see if council ever acts upon the idea.

— Kevin Osborne

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3 Comments on “Make the Cops Put it in Writing”

  1. Bengal Berding Says:

    Great Work Kevin! Let’s make this an issue this election.

  2. The Dean Says:

    Here is a copy of the presentation.


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