Cincinnati Mayor Who Dealt With Early Years of DOJ Reform Describes 'One Hell of a Battle'

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Yesterday, we quoted Cincinnati insiders, including Mayor Mark Mallory, about their experiences with police reforms brought by the Department of Justice. They poo poohed the idea that an outside monitor was akin to a "shadow mayor" or "shadow chief." Then, we heard from preceding mayor Charlie Luken.

Yes, Luken says, monitor Saul Green was not a shadow anything. He did not try to take over either the police department or the city. But the former mayor describes the first few years of Green's oversight, when Luken was in office, as "one hell of a battle" and "the toughest time of my life." Given that the 60-year-old Luken served in Congress and as a newscaster as well as in City Hall for twelve years, that's saying something.

He says a mutual contempt quickly developed between Green and the police command staff. Green, a former U.S. attorney who lived in Detroit (and someone The Seattle Times has speculated might be a candidate for monitor here), may not have been physically present all that often. But, Luken says,members of Green's team would descend upon police headquarters for a week or two at a time.

"They would expect full access and full attention," Luken says. "The police chief threw them out. He said: 'I can't do my job. All I do is respond to their questions.'" (Green declined a SW request for an interview.)

According to Luken, Green would also tell police command staff how to handle certain things--not day-to-day crimes or hiring decisions but, for instance, how to deal with mentally ill suspects. And, in the early days, Green's reports were sometimes brutally negative, according to Luken.

The former mayor says resentful police responded with a slow down. Crime shot up.

Luken heard calls for his resignation on right-wing and African American radio stations alike. He says he was exhausted by 2005, when he decided not to run for office again.

Given all that, it makes perfect sense why our mayor would resist a monitor. Mike McGinn's approval ratings are already embarrassingly low. Ongoing confrontations at police headquarters won't help him any.

Luken nevertheless says that for Cincinnati, the ordeal "was worth it." The city could not go on as it was, with relations between the police department and the minority community so toxic that riots followed a police shooting in 2001. The former mayor says the DOJ--and a corresponding lawsuit by the ACLU and another civic group--brought needed reforms, including mental health training for all new officers.

But if anybody thinks the process is easy, Luken adds, "they're nuts."

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