University of Cincinnati
The City of Cincinnati faced civil unrest in the aftermath of the University of Cincinnati police shooting of an unarmed African American man in an off-campus traffic stop. The killing was captured in its entirety on the police officer’s lapel camera. This tragic incident occurred as the nation focused on police and community relations after a number of highly charged incidents resulted in a breakdown in relations between city government and the Black community in the midst of one of the most troubled periods of race relations since the civil rights movement.
What could the University of Cincinnati do to prevent a similar breakdown of relations in a city with a history of troubled police community relations? How should the university deal with the national and international media attention to the tragic incident that was broadcast around the world? What did the university need to provide to the community to demonstrate appropriate sensitivity, avoid disruptive demonstrations and violence, and bring the community and university together?
The university embarked on a concerted effort to reach out to the African American community, faith and civil rights leaders, elected officials and neighborhood residents, as well as the campus community and the media.
The university brought in new public safety leadership, a new police chief and experts on police community relations. They hired experts in race, diversity and crisis management. Within days of the shooting, a community advisory committee was established, chaired by a prominent judge, to oversee the evaluation of the police department and efforts to reform the department including anti bias training, diversity and inclusion. The university conducted a formal review of the shooting, and embarked upon “a top to bottom” review of the police department to assess: racial profiling, biased policing, hiring, training, diversity, use of force, police community relations, etc.
A strategic communications plan was put in place that proactively reached out to local, regional and national media to communicate the efforts of the university. National news media were invited to meet with university leadership and get full briefings about the efforts to reduce tensions and make change at the university. The university responded to every issue and inquiry, and embarked on a comprehensive public outreach effort with full transparency. An open door media policy invited all media, local and national, into the university to meet with the president and other officials. (CNN, AP, Reuters, Buzzfeed, USA Today, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, MSNBC, etc.).
A monetary settlement with the family of the shooting victim was quickly reached and over 100 meetings took place with community members, students, faculty, civic and religious leaders in the months following the tragedy
Tensions were dramatically reduced as community leaders responded favorably to the university’s efforts. The media, which had reported around the clock on the events, developed a respect for the university and its president as a result of the transparency, honesty and responsibility shown by leadership. Editorials, op eds and feature articles in national publications recognized the efforts the university engaged in to reduce tensions and do the right thing in the aftermath of such a tragedy. The University of Cincinnati has become a model for how crises can best be handled and, while there are no winners with the death of an innocent man, institutions can act sensitively, responsibly and proactively to make a difference.