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Cincinnati police warned to work with monitor

CINCINNATI -- Three years ago, after riots rocked the city, the mayor stood with the nation's attorney general and promised to tighten police procedures and improve relations with blacks.

Last week, a federal judge ordered police to stop butting heads with the monitor overseeing the reforms -- or else.

Among other things, the monitor has complained that police are not documenting in full detail all instances in which they stopped people or used pepper spray, dogs, or stun guns. Also, the police chief has clashed with one of the monitor's staff members, questioning her competence, refusing to let her ride along to observe drug trafficking, and escorting her out of police headquarters.

The city and the police department have characterized the paperwork as so burdensome that it takes away from police officers' time on the street. And in court papers, the city said the confrontation with the staffer was ''a candid expression of each party's views."

But US District Judge Susan Dlott said the police officials were rude and disrespectful toward the staffer and were being obstructionist. Ultimately, the judge could fine or jail any city official who violates her order to cooperate.

Police Chief Thomas Streicher, Mayor Charlie Luken, and monitor Saul Green did not return calls seeking comment. But the mayor has said the disputes were minor. ''Common sense is taking a hike on this one," he told The Cincinnati Enquirer. Civil rights activists accused the city of violating the agreement and dragging its feet.

Cincinnati signed the five-year agreement with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft a year after the slaying of a fleeing, unarmed black man by a white officer in 2001 touched off three days of rioting in which store windows were broken and fires set.

To many, the shooting of Timothy Thomas, 19, was more evidence of an arrogant, out-of-control police department that ran roughshod over blacks. He was the 15th black man in six years to die while being arrested by Cincinnati police. Police said at least 11 had threatened or shot at officers.

Cecil Thomas, who is executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission and was a Cincinnati police officer for 27 years, said officers cling to a tradition that emphasizes law enforcement over community relations.

''But let's be real," he said. ''Our world is changing very fast. You can't just be a hard-nosed cop who says, 'The law is the law.' "

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