The Cincinnati Enquirer                                                                                        

Improving Police-Community Relations in Cincinnati: A Collaborative Approach

By Jay Rothman, Fall 2003 issue

History was made in Cincinnati on April 11, 2002. On that date, representatives of the City of Cincinnati, its police officers, and its citizens signed an agreement that set a path for a new era of cooperation between the police and the community. Just one year previously, serious racial unrest broke out in that city after the shooting of an unarmed African-American youth by a police officer.

Lawsuits against police departments are filed in many American cities these days, and investigations into police practices by the U.S. Department of Justice are occurring in a number of jurisdictions as well. Both of those processes began in Cincinnati early in 2001, but only in Cincinnati have a broad spectrum of citizens-and rank-and-file police officers themselves-participated directly in a comprehensive and collaborative process for improving police-community relations.

This unique journey began in May 2001 when Federal Judge Susan J. Dlott signed an order establishing a collaborative process to engage the community in working out an alternative to a win-lose lawsuit that alleged a pattern of “racial profiling” (or biased-based policing) by the Cincinnati Police Department. Instead of a trial on the specifics of the case, the collaborative was intended to address broader social conflicts in the city by soliciting the views of as many citizens as possible and establishing goals that would improve the relationship between police officers and the community. These goals, the judge’s order stated, must be addressed in any final collaborative agreement.

Judge Dlott had previously been a domestic relations attorney. In that role she developed the strong conviction that in issues with such deep emotional content, like domestic relations and racial issues, the court of law would not be the best first stop on the way to a lasting solution. Rather, she felt people would need to be deeply engaged in defining and solving such problems themselves. This is how I came to be asked to serve as the Judge’s special master and to organize and facilitate this broadly inclusive, problem solving process.

Ultimately, more than 3,500 citizens shared their goals for police-community relations, why they thought those goals were important, and how they would achieve the goals. They set a new agenda for their future that was ultimately translated into a legal settlement agreement and ratified with a specific set of plans, timelines and budget for implementation and monitoring. Questionnaires were gathered in eight segments of the community: African-Americans, whites, youth, leaders of religious organizations and social service agencies, business and foundation leaders, educators, police and their families, city employees, and other minority groups (for more details on this process and substantive outcomes please refer to

At a series of public meetings, representatives of each of the eight groups eventually synthesized nearly 10,000 solutions suggested by the community into dozens of consensus goals and finally ratified a slate of five summary goals to be addressed in the final agreement. Those goals are:

1. Police officers and community members will become proactive partners in community
    problem solving.

2. Build relationships of respect, cooperation, and trust within and between police and

3. Improve education, oversight, monitoring, hiring practices, and accountability of the
    Cincinnati Police Department.

4. Ensure fair, equitable, and courteous treatment for all.

5. Create methods to establish the public’s understanding of police policies and
    procedures, and recognition of exceptional service, in an effort to foster support for
    the police.

The themes and values embodied in these goals are expressed, directly and indirectly, throughout the Collaborative Agreement.

The Agreement was signed by the Black United Front, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the City of Cincinnati. Building directly on the five goals proposed by the citizens, these four bodies-known as “the parties”-agreed that the ultimate goal of their collaboration is to reduce the friction that has existed between some members of the community and some members of the city’s police force, to create a safer community, and to foster mutual trust and respect between citizens and police.

At the same time, the city and the Justice Department reached a Memorandum of Agreement to improve police operations and establish policies and procedures in such areas as use of force, training, and discipline of officers. Both agreements will be linked and overseen by a single independent monitor for the next five years (e.g. until the year 2007).

The Collaborative Agreement

The agreement begins with a Value Statement. Different groups in a community may have different experiences and perspectives, the statement says, but they have much more in common, can share the same goals, and can work together to solve problems. The agreement then sets out a way for the different groups to work together and to evaluate their progress.

Community Problem Oriented Policing.

Policing has traditionally been about the enforcement of existing laws. It is often reactive and emphasizes punishment. While recognizing that law enforcement remains a possible answer to troublesome circumstances in the community, the Collaborative Agreement offers a different approach: Community Problem Oriented Policing, or CPOP. During the process that led to this agreement, citizens across all of the participating groups expressed a strong desire for more positive interaction between police and the public. Under CPOP, all parties to the agreement will help the police and community work together to address such problems as crime, disorder, and quality of life issues in Cincinnati, and all parties will be held accountable for implementing CPOP. The city is required to come up with a plan for involving a number of city agencies, in addition to the police, in community problem solving.

This is how CPOP will work: Those “troublesome circumstances”-patterns of crime or victimization, for example-are seen as problems to be solved. But first they must be carefully defined and analyzed using data, intelligence, and community input. Then the police and their partners search for solutions that may require the participation of other city agencies, community members, and the private sector. Finally, these efforts are evaluated to assess whether the problem has been reduced. In short, CPOP is about the police and the community joining together in ways that are participatory, preventative, proactive and problem solving.

Requirements for implementing CPOP include documentation of problem-solving activities and dissemination of these efforts throughout the police department and to the public; CPOP training for community groups; and recognition of citizens, police officers, and other public officials who make substantial contributions to addressing community problems in Cincinnati.

Evaluating the Implementation of the Agreement. The agreement requires that all the parties, under the supervision of the independent monitor, develop a system to track their progress in reaching the goals. The tracking system amounts to a “mutual accountability plan,” meaning that the conduct of the city, the police administration, members of the police department, and members of the general public are closely observed and that all favorable and unfavorable conduct is documented and then used to improve police-community relations.

However, instead of focusing on “compliance” and “enforcement” of the agreements the operative notion here is instead “continuous improvement” and “mutual accountability.” Just as in policing, coercive enforcement of laws is always an option, and often a necessary one, so too in this agreement parties will be held to high standards. However, in both the preferred route is a willing and problem-solving partnership to reach the shared goals of improving police-community relations and ensuring safety together.

The evaluation will include surveys of citizens and police officers and observations of police-citizen interactions. Official police records will be compiled by race, gender, age, neighborhood, etc., for-among other categories-arrests, vehicle and pedestrian stops, and reports of both favorable and unfavorable conduct on the part of citizens and police officers.

An annual report will be published using these and other data to answer 35 specific questions that address the concerns expressed by city officials, police officers, and community members. For example: Is public safety improved throughout the City of Cincinnati? Are citizen complaint processes and discipline outcomes perceived to be fair by involved citizens and officers? Were persons of any particular race or national origin, gender, or age… subjected to a disproportionate share of use of force by the police? What has been done to help the police respond to the citizens in a more respectful manner? What has been done to help the citizens respond to the police in a more respectful manner? Has safety for both officers and the community been enhanced?

Bias-Free Policing.
Under the agreement, the city agrees to provide police services in a fair, impartial manner without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or ethnicity and already has begun to measure whether any racial disparity is occurring in police stops of motor vehicles. All officers are expected to explain to the citizen in a professional, courteous way why he or she was stopped. The independent monitor’s reports will include statistics on the race of all persons stopped (whether or not that person is in a vehicle), detained, searched, arrested, or involved in a use of force and the race of the officer making the stop.

Looking Ahead

In her order establishing the collaborative, Judge Dlott anticipated that the process would “provide an opportunity for the parties and the court to create a national and international model for other communities.” When Attorney General John Ashcroft came to Cincinnati on April 12, 2001 to announce the settlement between the city and the Justice Department, he acknowledged the “broad community involvement” in that process and in the Collaborative Agreement, saying “I…hope the spirit of cooperation and reconciliation that led to these agreements can be replicated elsewhere. It is our hope that jurisdictions will choose to follow the model that has been established here in Cincinnati.”

The ability to make the model a success now rests with all the people of Cincinnati. The tools are at their disposal. They will determine whether the police-community relations envisioned in their goals and laid out in the agreements become the norm when the monitor leaves town after five years. They will determine whether the culture of problem-solving takes root in Cincinnati and abolishes the culture of blame.

In addition to the implementation of the legal agreements, with judicial oversight, perhaps the most significant change if this collaborative is ultimately successful, will be in new sets of problem-solving attitudes, relationships and practices that take root in Cincinnati. A Community Problem Solving Center that will outlive the agreement is currently being launched to ensure that a problem solving partnership evolves, with police and community members involved and accountable. Stay tuned!


Jay Rothman, Ph.D. is President of the ARIA Group in Yellow Springs,, Ohio. He is a former Special Master to Federal Judge Susan Dlott and former Director of the Cincinnati Police-Community Relations Collaborative. The author wishes to thank the Andrus Family Fund for sponsoring the research and writing of this article and to acknowledge Janet Mandelstone of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City for her extensive contributions to this piece.


Instead of a trial on the specifics of the case, the collaborative was intended to address broader social conflicts in the city by soliciting the views of as many citizens as possible and establishing goals that would improve the relationship between police officers and the community.

Policing has traditionally been about the enforcement of existing laws. It is often reactive and emphasizes punishment.

Printed in Reproduced here with permission from the Association for Conflict Resolution



The Cincinnati Police - Community Relations Collaborative