Public Safety

Judge West and Bishop Hilton's Op Ed

As published in The Cincinnati Herald of July 25, 2020.

Five years later: Lessons we have learned to achieve successful police reform

July 19 marks a painful anniversary for our community – the killing of Samuel DuBose. For his family, for our community and for our shared futures amidst a national outcry for police reform, here is what we have learned in helping to oversee successful police reform at the University of Cincinnati.

By the Honorable John Andrew West, Judge (Retired), Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, and Chair of the UC-UCPD Community Compliance Council

Bishop Bobby Hilton, Senior Pastor, Word of Deliverance Ministries for the World and member of the UC-UCPD Community Compliance Council, is also President of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network (NAN).

In 2015 when we first heard of the shooting death of unarmed motorist Samuel DuBose by a then University of Cincinnati police officer, we could not have imagined the roles we would come to play in campus’ police reforms – even as there were widespread community dialogues at that time (including calls to disband UCPD) and as we observed (often daily) the subsequent murder trials when the city and university were in the national spotlight.

But over the next several years in leading and in serving on the Community Advisory Council (now the Community Compliance Council), we provided proactive guidance in shaping the roadmap to reform, working in partnership with other community leaders, campus leaders, academic researchers, UCPD and other police departments like CPD as well as international experts to establish the reforms currently in place today.

As a result of this multifaceted collaboration, UC has now become a national model for urban-university policing and could equally serve as a national model in how to initiate, conduct and complete important reforms. Additionally, the continued success of review, reflection and reform used in the UC model highlights the need for continued monitoring and improvement – always striving to do better, recognizing the need for evolution in the role of police within our communities.

Our personal commitment to reform
Our personal commitment to the important work of reform goes beyond a shared sense of responsibility to our larger community, though that matters greatly. For us, it’s also a personal calling. After all, we are both African American men keenly aware of and even subject to problematical interactions between police and communities of color – two men who would not dare jog in our own neighborhoods.

As such, standards for reform are robust and rigorous, and our goal in reporting on the successes achieved and the lessons we’ve learned is straightforward – the deaths of Samuel DuBose, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others must achieve change like those we  are collectively bringing about here in Cincinnati and at UC.  

Building blocks for reform
The building blocks for police reform are equally self evident and elusive. In short, they are

  • Acknowledgement: Everyone around the table – whether students, police, faculty researchers or community members – must be able to openly and without defensiveness, acknowledge serious issues related to racism, bias and/or training within a policing unit and that much could be improved. We find that some police departments may treat any incident or issue as a one-off-of-a-kind or a sometimes an anomaly. This did not happen at UC. In fact, campus efforts were the equivalent to federally mandated reforms at other departments. But, importantly, these efforts were wholly voluntary on the part of the university and its police department. The fact that UC decided to voluntarily engage an independent monitor appears to be the first time any U.S. police agency undertook such a step without a mandate to do so by the Department of Justice with judicial oversight.
  • Leadership commitment and full support: The office of the president (or the mayor or the governor) must clearly and consistently articulate and fully support needed analysis (and then action steps) no matter where the data   ultimately leads. The same is true for police department heads and any overarching leadership board. This has been fully the case at the University of Cincinnati.
  • Courage, consistency and transparency: We must be accountable for our actions. When we fall short, immediate corrective action must be the norm. It required three years for UC and UCPD to complete substantive reforms, and the work goes on with the CCC continuing in its monitoring role. The key to building a stronger, more community-based organization is through continual effort, reflection and adherence to the changes initially implemented.
  • Authentic listening: Feedback regarding police performance and its impact on the community is essential. Outside perspectives are valuable and important. There must be no closed feedback loops. We are on a long road and by walking together in mutual relationship and active listening, we can be supportive of both the necessary functions of law enforcement and important movements like Black Lives Matter. Around the CCC table, we have had some raw discussions around such lived experiences as “driving while Black” and ensuing solutions sometimes resulted in real arguments. Eventually, however, our emotional and intense discussions created a level of trust and unity that continues today. In fact, our growth and bonding has been so beneficial that we and most of our original CAC members have extended our initial two-year terms into nearly five years. Our original terms began in August 2015. 

Report card
As we pursue our goal to eliminate individual, institutional and structural racism in university and wider policing, that progress at UC includes

  • UCPD voluntarily worked with an internationally known external monitor, Exiger, on a comprehensive top-to-bottom review resulting in 276 recommendations to improve all areas of the department and its operations. Exiger’s team oversees some of the world’s most-complex, court-appointed police monitorships, and UCPD fully implemented every one of those recommendations.
  • These include ongoing, consistent training around diversity, implicit bias, fair and impartial policing, emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity, communication training, de-escalation and a decision-making model that emphasizes time and distance to resolve incidents without force.
  • Increased staff diversity: In our most recent recruit class, six of nine officer hires represent the addition of more minorities and women to the department, where 17 percent of public safety employees are Black or African American, including 12 percent of police officers. In our roles with the CCC, we will continue to encourage a pipeline toward ever-greater diversity and effectiveness in the agency.
  • A tracking system now monitors any concerning behaviors among officers, and any report of misconduct is investigated internally and reviewed also by the CCC, which continues to closely scrutinize progress. Our goals as members of the CCC is to “identify and prevent” rather than merely react to incidents representing organizational failure.

Such steps and actions do not curtail or limit the effectiveness of the many outstanding and dedicated police personnel we have come to know at UC. Instead, these reforms support and provide the very best tools to do difficult jobs of valuable service to the campus community and to make decisions that are moral, constitutional and respectful of individual rights and community interests.

Our message to the DuBose family
The date of July 19 should never be forgotten in Cincinnati or beyond. Your loss can never be remedied nor ever made right. Your son, your brother, your partner, your father was stopped for not having a front license plate and was senselessly murdered.  

But real change has come from that tragic moment, and all that we can hope for is that our own actions and that of many others of good will offer some consolation and that all within our community come to enjoy greater safety and security. As Cincinnatians, we must continue to come together so that whenever and wherever police and public come together, everyone goes home. Everyone.