'What We All Want is Respect'


What's next for police-neighborhood relationships in New York City? All parties know that aggressive stop-and-frisk practices must change. A federal judge said so.

In her rulings last year, Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin not only ordered the New York Police Department (NYPD) to submit to external monitoring of its stop-and-frisk policies; she ordered the city to collaborate with many stakeholders in formulating approaches for future public safety programs. By not appealing the judge's order, the new administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to go along.

This “joint remedial process,” in the words of the court order, is premised on a simple but powerful requirement. All parties must start with basic respect for each other. They must listen to each other, and then they must use what they have heard to engage in some hard-headed negotiations about policing policy.Other cities have used this “joint remedial process” as a framework for achieving both grassroots and official buy-in to a set of agreed-upon police reforms. It is modeled on a remarkable “collaborative agreement” set into operation in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2001. Whether it will prove as useful to New York as it did to Cincinnati is, of course, unknown. But at least New Yorkers should have some idea about what it is as they embark on implementation of the judge's order.

In Cincinnati – a city with a long history of deep racial enmity – a wide variety of people were asked what they thought needed to be changed in local police practices. The process began with 3,500 surveys both on-line and in-person of city residents from diverse neighborhoods, civic organizations, and minority youth. Eventually, police officers, families of officers, and the police union also responded.

All the groups said they wanted the same thing: basic respect.

Young black men told of brutal or insensitive law enforcement with no regard for their personal dignity. Police officers told of jeering disobedience to officers of the law and troubling disrespect for the law itself. They all agreed that the most fundamental problem in police-citizen interactions was that there was no respect from either side.

They also agreed that the fatal shooting of 16 young black men in two years was tragic. And they agreed that the civil disturbance which followed one of those shootings reflected badly on their city as well.

They wanted to do better.

This civic soul-searching had no pre-determined outlet or goal. It was important simply to get people thinking about the problem and to see that lack of respect hurt everyone.

Much more concrete were the lawsuits pending in federal court and the prospect that the city's police department would be forced to submit to monitoring by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ). The mayor had asked for a DOJ investigation.

Facing the prospect of a painful and complicated series of trials, Judge Susan Dlott of the Southern District of Ohio brought together stakeholder representatives and told them to work out their differences or face painful litigation. Settling the lawsuits was the announced goal, but determining the future of Cincinnati's police policies and programs was the real agenda.

The participants included police managers, African American ministers, inspirational attorneys for the plaintiffs, police unionists, justice activists, city corporation counsel, civic group leaders, city council members, business leaders, DOJ lawyers, and a local university professor specializing in police research.

They all spoke freely and forcefully. And they referred to the ideas and recommendations that had emerged from the stakeholder surveys and meetings.

“I just put a horseshoe table in a small courtroom and told everybody they had to be there at eight o'clock in the morning and they couldn't leave until 12 o'clock at night,” Judge Dlott told me recently.

Many heated meetings ensued, and “there were just so many extraordinary people in this whole mix . . . It was like the stars aligning.”

The lawyers from both sides and from the police union, as well as religious leaders from the black community, thrashed out a proposed “collaborative agreement” about what to do to change policing in that city.

The agreement identified “problem-oriented policing” as the preferred strategy for dealing with crime and disorder, and it soundly rejected aggressive patrol practices. Union leaders refused to agree to this unless their membership voted to approve it.

A new era for policing in Cincinnati began when the union's rank-and-file officers voted to support the new policing policies.

Now, over ten years later, all stakeholders agree that police in that city have made tremendous improvements.

In requiring that New York undertake a Cincinnati collaborative process to address problems with policing in this city, the Floyd order cannot guarantee a similar outcome.

But it does mean we have to try.

Candace McCoy, a professor of criminal justice at the Graduate Center and John Jay College of CUNY, studied the Cincinnati police collaborative under a research grant from the Andrus Foundation in New York. She welcomes comments from readers.

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