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Cincinnati Was a Model for Police Reform. What Happened?

The rise and fall of collaborative policing in the Queen City raises doubts about the possibility of long-term change.

Marching to the courthouse to protest George Floyd’s murder, June 2020.

Marching to the courthouse to protest George Floyd’s murder, June 2020.

Photographer: Jason Whitman/Getty Images

The chaos in Cincinnati started, in earnest, at a budget hearing three weeks after the murder of George Floyd. The topic was a million-dollar bump for the Cincinnati Police Department, a hugely controversial proposition amid nationwide calls for drastically cutting police budgets.

Residents filed into the Duke Energy Convention Center on a Thursday night in June 2020. One by one, people took the floor, using their two minutes of allotted time to shout down the increase. “To know as a taxpayer that CPD is receiving my hard-earned money to continue and consistently oppress my brothers and sisters is sickening,” said a woman named Mecca, joining via Zoom. “At this point we are paying slave masters with badges.” Cincinnati police had killed nine people, most of them Black, in the past five years. In 2018, a video of an officer using a Taser on an 11-year-old Black girl in a Kroger supermarket went viral. Applause periodically swelled into “No Justice, No Peace” chants.