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Cincinnati's police oversight board made recommendations. CPD has agreed to more than half of them

Becca Costello

The Cincinnati Police Department has agreed, at least in part, with more than half the recommendations from an independent oversight board. That’s one finding in the Citizen Complaint Authority's latest "Patterns and Recommendations" report, covering 2021 and 2022.

CCA Director Gabe Davis says he meets monthly with CPD Chief Teresa Theetge and the city manager’s office to discuss recommendations.

"For CCA to explain why the recommendation is important; for me to explain why I made it and why the board adopted it. And for the police department to explain from their perspective whether they agree or disagree, and what questions they may have about it," Davis said. "It's usually the start of the discussion, not the end of the discussion."

RELATED: Gabe Davis resigns from CCA to lead a statewide nonprofit law firm

The report includes 44 unique recommendations. CPD indicated full agreement for 15; partial agreement for five; not in agreement for 14; and pending review for eight.

Davis says the most common circumstance that results in a citizen complaint is traffic stops. He says the CCA has started tracking data in more detail to better understand the trend.


Davis says the relationship between CPD and the CCA has improved lot over the past few years.

But there's one policy recommendation the CPD has refused to accept year after year. Davis says they often get complaints that an officer is harassing a resident with frequent interactions, like traffic or pedestrian stops. But Davis says CPD doesn't have a definition for harassment.

"There ought to be a clear standard that we can hold up, we can measure the action against, and we can understand, OK, where did the officer cross the line and where do they not cross the line?" Davis said. "[The CCA] cannot create policy. So we cannot create a definition where it doesn't exist."

The CPD response to this recommendation has consistently been that they don't need a harassment definition.

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"We have to be sending a message loud and clear that even if we think that this is not a common occurrence, that there's still no tolerance for citizens being harassed," Davis said.

Iris Roley of the Black United Front helped negotiate the Collaborative Agreement that led to the creation of the CCA two decades ago.

"Sometimes the citizen doesn't know how to go about proving what they said happened," Roley said. "If I get stopped two or three times by the same officer and I don't get a ticket, I'm just being pulled over, I will consider that harassment. But because we don't have a policy that dictates what harassment is for police and citizens, that will never be sustained."

Davis is optimistic about the future of this recommendation.

"In the past we've seen recommendations that have not been adopted, and over time we're able to have conversation about it and move the ball on it," he said.

'Pattern officers'

The report also identifies "pattern officers" and "pattern complainants." Five officers in the report meet the criteria: at least 10 CCA complaints within a three-year period. Three of those are "pattern officers" in both 2021 and 2022.

The report uses an ID number for officers and complainants instead of their names. Davis says that's because officers who fit the criteria have not necessarily done anything wrong.

"It's important that we track this, and it's important that we understand who are the people, in essence, who we should be watching, and that requires some further scrutiny," Davis said. "There can be a negative connotation associated with this if you don't understand the report. But the criteria are actually not inherently negative."

For example, one of the officers identified had 31 complaints with 38 allegations from 2020-2022. Of those, all but three were not even investigated by the CCA because the complaints don't meet the board's criteria. In the three cases the CCA did investigate, the allegation was determined to be unfounded in two cases, and the officer was exonerated in the third.

RELATED: Cincinnati's police oversight board on track to clear backlog within a year, even as complaints go up

Asked whether different criteria might be more informative, Davis partly agrees.

"I do think that there is real room for us to start to formally collect and to publish information about individuals who have repeated sustained findings," Davis said. "That is something that I had on my to-do list, so to speak ... but my time is coming to a close here. So, I would certainly encourage my successor to give some real thought to that, because I do think we ought to be focused on both things."

Davisis leaving city employment effective Aug. 11 to become the new CEO of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.

The report recommends the five "pattern officers" undergo a CPD performance review. CPD has generally disagreed with such recommendations in the past.

For example, the CCA issued this recommendation in 2022:

"Given recurring violations of police policy by Police Officer John Goebel during a consecutive two-year period—including a repeated lack of civil behavior which resulted in two (2) Sustained findings from CCA for Discourtesy, as well as a Sustained finding from CPD for failing to operate a police vehicle in a prudent manner—CCA recommends that CPD review Officer Goebel’s performance and consider taking progressive corrective action, including but not limited to retraining."

CPD responded:

"CPD’s investigation of this case did not arrive at the same conclusion. CPD already has a practice in place for review of officer activity through the Employee Tracking System. CPD conducts a quarterly analysis of officer activity as an early warning system for any officer with a pattern of behavior above the established thresholds. Officer Goebel’s activity is within the normal range. CPD does a three-year look back for progressive discipline. Any violations of procedure by Officer Goebel within the past three years have been correctly documented and discipline issued. There is no pattern of behavior that requires further action."

Davis says there's no reason CPD can't rely on both its own employee tracking system and CCA recommendations to identify potential bad actors.

"There are officers who we believe clearly are in need of some intervention," Davis said. "Our job is to point that out and let the chips fall where they may."

RELATED: Cincy's police chief talks having more officers on patrol, more women on the force and boosting morale

City Manager Sheryl Long declined an interview and did not provide a statement in time for publication.

Police Chief Teresa Theetge did not respond to a request for an interview or statement.

Full Patterns and Recommendations Report

The full 2021-2022 Patterns and Recommendations report is embedded below.

Complaints investigated by the CCA are assigned one of several findings:

  • Unfounded: the investigation determined no fact to support that the incident actually occurred
  • Sustained: the allegation is supported by sufficient evidence to determine the incident occurred and the actions of the officer were improper (violated police policies, procedure, or training)
  • Not sustained: there are insufficient facts to determine whether the alleged misconduct occured
  • Exonerated: the greater weight of the evidence indicates the alleged conduct did occur but did not violate police department policies, procedures and training
  • NA: the complaint does not meet the criteria for a CCA investigation and was forwarded to CPD
  • NFR: indicates "no finding reported" for one of two reasons: the situation does not match the allegation as originally recorded, or the allegation has been duplicated in order to align with more detailed categorization

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.