Resource: Reforming Police Use-of-Force Practices: A Case Study of the Cincinnati Police Department

By: Elliot Harvey Schatmeier

September 1, 2012

When Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act of 1994, it gave the Department of Justice (DOJ) a powerful tool for correcting unconstitutional practices in state and local police agencies. Over the last twenty years, the DOJ has used this power to investigate, sue, and enter into contractual agreements with police agencies as a means of reforming unconstitutional police practices, such as excessive use of force, racial profiling, and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk practices.

These agreements often fail to achieve their stated goals, however, because they lack effective enforcement mechanisms. Additionally, the DOJ has repeatedly failed to combat problems in the implementation process such as officer circumvention, fleeting political support, and intractable command management. In contrast to these failures, the Cincinnati Police Department achieved measurable progress in reducing use-of-force incidents, officer injuries, and improving citizen satisfaction while under an agreement with the DOJ and various private parties.

This Note argues that Cincinnati Police Department’s success can be explained by the innovative design of its agreement, which stresses the principles of democratic experimentalism — including a flexible and goal-oriented approach, stakeholder deliberation, regulatory transparency, and enforcement mechanisms governing the implementation of the agreement’s terms. It then identifies some methods implemented in Cincinnati that may prove useful in reforming police agencies in other cities.