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Question Authority

By John Fox · May 27th, 2009 · Editorial

Americans have always been taught that collective power and government flows from the people, that all public servants (elected and appointed officials, the military, police, firefighters, garbage collectors) work for us. Government authority is derived from the will of the people, who can always take it back.

The Bill of Rights guarantees that Americans can question those in authority or, in the language of the First Amendment, petition for a redress of grievances. We’re taught early on that we’re in charge, not the people with the fancy titles or the motorcades or the uniforms and guns.

In these superheated partisan times, though, questioning authority has devolved into political warfare. When citizens protested the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, they were called unpatriotic. When citizens held “tea parties” to protest bank bailouts and budget deficits, they were called misguided and unhelpful.

In fact, according to our proud American tradition, those who question decision-makers about government policies are patriots. They understand that citizens must be active participants, not passive bystanders, for democracy to work.

Things always work a little differently here in Cincinnati, of course, and so it is when we question authority. Despite the best efforts of many citizens, one group of local public servants continues to operate with little oversight: the police.

Quick, do you know who supervises the Cincinnati Police Department? Who is Chief Thomas Streicher Jr.’s boss? Have you ever heard that person address problems within the department or institute meaningful change there?

The latest dust-up in the police ranks is a dispute over the mounted patrol unit, where internal bickering and backstabbing have boiled over into abuse of authority allegations, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on May 24. Apparently City Manager Milton Dohoney (Streicher’s boss) will make some sort of decision about it all this week.

The Enquirer article also mentioned how the mounted patrol problems echo those detailed in the 2005 Linder Report, commissioned by then-Mayor Charlie Luken after the 2001 riots. Police expert John Linder interviewed Cincinnati Police Department employees and found that officers didn’t trust their supervisors to treat them fairly.

The Enquirer
labeled it “an all-but-forgotten” report, and CityBeat’s Kevin Osborne might be the main reason it’s not completely forgotten. Kevin has written about the Linder Report four times in the past three years after discovering that few City Council members have ever seen it and no one seems very interested in tracking down a copy.

[Read CityBeat coverage of turmoil within the Cincinnati Police Department since the Linder Report was commissioned and then buried: May 2006, June 2006, July 2006, September 2006, August 2007 and April 2009.]

Mayor Mark Mallory and council members are Dohoney’s bosses and ultimately oversee the police force on our behalf. They and their predecessors have found it better politically to ignore long-standing problems within the department, adopting an “out of sight, out of mind” approach.

The easy part of being an American is questioning authority. The hard part is demanding answers.

CONTACT JOHN FOX: jfox@citybeat.com



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