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20 years after the Collaborative Agreement, a lot has been accomplished. But there's still work to do

Black United Front Co-Founder Iris Roley speaks at a news conference acknowledge 20 years since the enactment of the Collaborative Agreement.
Jolene Almendarez
Black United Front Co-Founder Iris Roley speaks at a news conference acknowledge 20 years since the enactment of the Collaborative Agreement.

It's been 20 years since sweeping police reform — known as the Collaborative Agreement — was enacted in Cincinnati. It focuses on dozens of issues around equity, independent oversight, use of force, and transparency. But organizers say the mission is ongoing.

Black United Front Co-founder Iris Roley said at a news conference Thursday, "We've not stopped. We've been at the table for 20 years. This thing will continue on forever. Because you will have to always have continuous improvement in anything, on anyone's job, and for all citizens."

The Black United Front was joined by the Cincinnati Police Department, NAACP, city officials, and others who took part in creating or supporting the Collaborative Agreement.

It happened after 15 Black men were killed by police in a short amount of time, most famously Timothy Thomas. He was shot and killed by police while fleeing from them. An officer at the scene said he believed Thomas was reaching for a gun, but no weapon was ever found. Other acts of racial profiling also prompted the class action civil suit.

Minister Bomani Tyehimba was the lead plaintiff in the suit saying CPD was racial profiling. He said he’d been misidentified, pulled out of a car, and mistreated by police while on the way to pick up his son from school. A gun was held to his temple, he was dragged across a street, and then roughly handcuffed. While acknowledging the agreement today, he had a message for Black men.

"I lost a lot of battles. But the war that I won was getting home to my son. So I say to young Black men, that there may be times when you are going to come up against the police or have an encounter with the police. That is not the time to prove manhood. Lose the battle. You might have to spend a night in jail. Lose the battle," he said. "But there's a war you have to win and that's the war to get back home to your family. So, I lost that battle, but the war was, we got a lawsuit. And out of that lawsuit, we got the Collaborative Agreement. So we won the war."

Roley says the Collaborative Agreement has been successful because of a common thread: the desire to prevent violence and keep communities safe.

It's something Interim Police Chief Teresa Theetge says she is committed to upholding. She was a sergeant at the department of internal investigation unit 20 years ago. She didn't investigate Tyehimba's case, but proofread the report before it was submitted. She says she didn't know at the time, but she was getting in on the ground floor of police reform in the city. It's something she says has changed the way she thinks about policing.

"If I do this, if I buy this, how does it affect the community? And so because of the Collaborative, that has caused us to pause when we are about to make big decisions, like body cameras, Tasers, equipment that we won't buy, because we don't think it's good for our relationships with the community. So we are constantly evolving, seeing what's out there. But first and foremost, we want to know: How does it impact the community of Cincinnati?"

The past 20 years, however, have been tough.

Roley said, "It has not been an easy 20 years. It's been 20 years worth of sacrifice. It has been 20 years of fight, it has been 20 years of struggle. But I wouldn't have done it any other way. We are all better for the Collaborative Agreement, for the spirit and the language of [it]."

Some of the challenges in the past few years include a continuing contention with the Fraternal Order of Police.

Cincinnati Police Union President Sgt. Dan Hils has made controversial statements about people who have been shot in Cincinnati. Despite being part of the Collaborative Agreement, Hils has said he personally chooses not to work on issues if Roley is involved. The Black United Front called for his resignation after the information became public.

In addition to disagreements with the FOP, officials still face deadly shootings by police.

For instance, a man was killed by Cincinnati Police officers this week in Covington. According to video from body camera footage released Thursday, Ali Coulter appears to be holding a handgun when he fled from police searching for him in relation to a murder investigation.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.