Cities Take a Look Into Racial Profiling

ByPierre Thomas

W A S H I N G T O N, April 15, 2001 -- Cincinnati, Ohio now joins at least 14 other communities where the Justice Department is reviewing allegations of systemic abuse by police.

And the issues are almost always the same — allegations of excessive force, racial profiling or false arrest.

"It's almost at the point of explosion," says NAACP president Kwesi M'fume. "The fact that it exploded here in Cincinnati ought to at least give all of us pause to recognize that it can happen in any city at any given time."

Nationwide Issue

The investigations span the country. The cities which have been publicly named include: Buffalo, N.Y.; Charleston, W.Va.; Cleveland, Ohio; Eastpointe, Mich.; New Orleans, La.; New York City, N.Y.; Orange County, Fla.; Prince George's County, Md.; Riverside, Ca.; and Washington, D.C.

In addition, the Justice Department has entered into consent decree settlement with four police departments that agreed to address allegations of misconduct through training, including the New Jersey State Police, and forces in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Stuebenville, Ohio; and Los Angeles. Columbus, Ohio officials have refused to sign a similar agreement and have vowed to fight.

Columbus, Ohio is only a two-hour drive from Cincinnati. Justice investigators found blacks there were nearly three times as likely as whites to be the subject of a traffic stop.

In some cases, those stops allegedly led to a pattern of false arrests, illegal searches and physical confrontations.

Columbus police say the allegations are exaggerated and unfairly taint an entire department.

"The officers do not believe they are guilty of this," says William Capretta, the president of the Columbus Fraternal Order of Police. "They do not believe they mistreat people."

‘Pattern of Denial’

Civil Rights leaders say police are ignoring the problem.

"These relations, in many respects, have worsened," says M'fume. ?And they've worsened because there continues to be this pattern of denial many times by the police department that there's no problem."

In many ways the issue is racial sensitivities on both sides. Minorities say police see them as potential criminals rather than law-abiding citizens.

Some police say better training can address the mistrust.

"Communication skills and de-escalation skills and conflict management skills," lists Bruce Glasscock, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, "we don't do enough of that."

Yet, the fact remains that while African Americans are only 12 to 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, they make up about 50 percent of the prison and jail population.

Now in Cincinnati, the Justice Department must help find out whether arrest patterns reflect the reality of crime in the city or selective enforcement.

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