There’s a tendency among many people to romanticize the past, and that’s especially true of the mainstream media.
Unless a politician or other public official is convicted of a crime, virtually anyone is subject to the “rose-colored glasses” treatment upon his or her retirement or death. Maybe it’s because it is easier to write puffery about someone than do serious, in-depth analysis of a long and complicated career.
This trend was in full display last weekend when The Enquirer ran a lengthy, glowing profile about Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr., upon his retirement. The article, by reporter Jane Prendergast, included an interview with the chief under the headline, “Streicher leaves legacy of change.” It included a videotaped interview and several flattering photographs.
Streicher, 57, of Green Township, is retiring after nearly 40 years with the department. He served 12 years as chief.
To hear Streicher tell it, via his Enquirer-appointed stenographer, he always supported the dozens of police reforms that resulted from the Collaborative Agreement. That was the catch-all name for an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department for improving police operations, along with a separate settlement of a class-action lawsuit that accused local police of harassing African Americans.
Although people tend to forget it now, the lawsuit already had been filed when on April 7, 2001, a police officer shot and killed Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old, unarmed black man wanted only on misdemeanor warrants, during a foot chase down a dark Over-the-Rhine alley on a Saturday night.
Three days later, after Cincinnati Police refused to divulge any details about the shooting, scattered rioting broke out in parts of downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
Thomas was the 15th African-American killed by Cincinnati Police in five years, a period in which no white people had been killed in police encounters.
The lawsuit, meanwhile, had alleged a 30-year pattern of racially biased policing. Once riots erupted, city officials took a more conciliatory tone toward the suit, while also asking for a Justice Department review of the Police Department.
City officials eventually settled the lawsuit, although they didn’t admit to any wrongdoing. As part of the deal, the city agreed to implement numerous changes in the department — with a federal court providing oversight for five years to make sure it was done.
Which brings us back to Streicher.
According to the whitewashed version of his tenure as chief, which Streicher spoon-fed to the Enquirer reporter, his attitude toward making reforms was solidified one night in late 2001, while watching a TV show. A Middle Eastern man was debating the merits of his nation with a U.S. citizen and made the comment, “Well, at least we’re not Cincinnati.”
“I knew in my mind that we had to be advocates for this city, we had to be a total part of the effort,” Streicher told The Enquirer for his profile. “I knew I had to commit myself and commit this entire agency to take on the challenge. I mean, my God. How could someone say that about Cincinnati?”
Nice try, Mr. Streicher, but your “memory” doesn’t quite jibe with the historical record.
Streicher often was skeptical about the need for reforms during the initial phases of the process. In fact, the city tried to withdraw from the deal in April 2003 but a federal judge refused the request. (The Enquirer also wasn’t so supportive back then: Its then-editorial page editor wrote that the Collaborative was “a hurry-up deal to settle bogus profiling lawsuits that were not even settled.” My, how times have changed.)
The chief’s actual history (read: resistance to change and oversight) briefly was mentioned but it also got altered from reality.
The profile stated: “He didn’t initially welcome the post-riots reforms sought by the U.S. Department of Justice, either. It felt to him ‘like it was force-fed,’ and ‘You’re going to do this or else.’ No surprise, that method didn’t exactly work with the leader of a paramilitary organization. But when DOJ officials assigned to the case changed, he felt the new ones actually listened. The pressure was off, too, with the election of President Bush, who was less interested in federal oversight of police departments than his predecessor Bill Clinton.”
Except Bush took office in January 2001 and the Collaborative was signed into effect spring 2002, almost 15 months later. Clinton had nothing to with any of it, except he remains a favorite punching bag for reactionary conservatives like Tommy.
And what about the time in March 2005 when a federal judge ruled that the city and its police department had breached the deal? Her ruling came after Streicher blocked a court-appointed monitoring team from viewing police training and accessing records at police headquarters. The team also complained that Streicher and his top assistant, Lt. Col. Richard Janke, were persistently rude and uncooperative.
The judge warned city officials to improve their behavior or face stricter oversight and the levying of fines.
For those keeping score, that was almost three years after the Collaborative was signed, and four years after Bush took office.
None of the facts that dispute Streicher’s pleasant recollections, however, were cited by The Enquirer.
All of that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Streicher’s rocky reign. Other highlights included the domestic violence complaint lodged against Streicher by his then-wife Kathryn when she filed for divorce in 2001; his later marriage to a subordinate officer who was then granted disability retirement; and his reluctance to confront the slowdown in arrests that occurred after the riots.
In the 18 months following, adult arrests declined by 36 percent and juvenile arrests dropped by 28 percent. Arrests have since rebounded, but it took a few years.
Also, a study by a nationally renowned police expert in 2005 found officers had low morale not due to City Council but because of department leadership.
Conducted by John Linder, the study was ordered by then-Mayor Charlie Luken in summer 2005 and completed the following December. After badgering by CityBeat and other media, it finally was released publicly in June 2006.
Among its findings, the study stated rank-and-file officers felt ignored and treated unfairly by department leadership. It found that officers sharply mistrusted their supervisors, with only 28.1 percent believing that discipline within the department was fair and uniform.
Make no mistake, any manager in a private-sector company with that record would be fired.
Several City Council members privately grumbled about Streicher’s performance over the years but were afraid of the political fallout if he was demoted.
With Streicher thankfully fading into the sunset, the more pressing question is why did The Enquirer allow the piece of journalistic fellatio to grace its pages?
Famed American writer Finley Peter Dunne once said that journalism’s function is to “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.” Based on how they kowtow to the powerful, managers at The Enquirer have a bad case of dyslexia.