It’s been a long and winding road, to borrow a phrase from Lennon and McCartney, but the will of Cincinnati voters that was first expressed in November 2001 is now finally coming to fruition.
Nearly a full decade after a charter amendment was approved that changed how police chiefs are selected, it’s being used for the first time.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. announced June 28 that he’s selected a candidate from outside the current ranks to head the Cincinnati Police Department. Not only does the person selected have extensive experience dealing with gang-related violence and shootings in Los Angeles, but he also will be the Queen City’s first-ever African-American police chief.
James E. Craig, who currently is the chief in Portland, Maine, will take the top spot here beginning in about a month. In his new position, Craig, 54, will be paid $135,000 annually. He will oversee a department with 1,057 sworn personnel. But Craig previously oversaw 390 personnel and a $42 million budget while he worked in a command position with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Before moving to Maine, Craig spent 28 years in the LAPD, where he retired as a captain in 2009. During his time there, Craig served as the commanding officer in Juvenile Division and the Operations Support Division, where he was directly responsible for patrol operations, special enforcement units, the detective section and the vice unit.
Craig has a tough task ahead: Cincinnati had the highest homicide rate among Ohio’s major cities last year. The Queen City had 21.6 homicides per 100,000 residents. That compares to Cleveland, which had 18.6 per 100,000; Columbus with 13.7; and Toledo with 8.2.
As part of his job in Los Angeles, Craig implemented strategies to sustain crime reduction efforts over a three-year period in the crime-ridden Southwest L.A. area. In that period, violent crimes decreased by 27 percent, property crimes decreased by 21 percent, homicides dropped by 22 percent and the number of shooting victims fell by 31 percent.
“We have had numerous conversations about the situation here,” Dohoney said at a press conference, where he announced the hiring. “The homicides, the shootings, the challenge of dealing with homelessness as well as the projected growth of our city. Chief Craig is committed to intelligence-led policing.
Among Craig’s accomplishments in Portland, he also implemented a data-driven CompStat process there. Within three months of implementation, the city had a 10 percent reduction in violent crime and a 1 percent reduction in property crime. Additionally, Craig created the Chief’s Community Advisory Board, which is credited with improving police-community relations.
“He believes in and will advance the principles of community-oriented policing,” Dohoney said. “He has a track record of using the latest technologies and police practices that will help meet Cincinnati’s complex challenges, and he will bring his drive for results to better the department and the community.”
Craig began his career with the Detroit Police Department in 1977. He moved to California three years later after he was laid off due to budget cuts.
Craig’s selection ends a nationwide search that began in January, in anticipation of Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr.’s retirement in March. As part of the process, Dohoney surveyed citizens to ask about attributes they considered important in a chief. Also, Dohoney conducted focus groups with various segments of the city.
Eventually, five community members worked with city staffers in reviewing applications. They narrowed the pool from 43 to six candidates, each of whom had interviews.
In November 2001, just seven months after riots sparked by the police shooting death of an unarmed black man, Cincinnati voters approved the charter amendment known as Issue 5. It gave authority to the city manager to hire and fire the chiefs and assistant chiefs in the police and fire departments rather than using a civil service process.
Under the system approved by voters, the positions could be filled from outside current ranks rather than being limited to in-house candidates from a promotion list based on exam scores.
Until the switch, Cincinnati was one of the few major cities in the nation without the option of hiring outside chiefs, leading to what some called “organizational in-breeding” and a dearth of new ideas.
Over the years, many critics alleged the CPD was dominated by an “old boys club” in its upper ranks, filled with graduates of Elder High School who had provincial outlooks and were resistant to news ideas and tactics.
Issue 5’s supporters said the change would bring fresh perspectives to the Police Department and provide more accountability for its leaders. Opponents — which included Streicher and the police union — insisted Issue 5 would make the police chief’s job too vulnerable to the whims of City Council. The union also alleged it amounted to an unfair labor practice because it violated terms of previous Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) contracts.
During the heated campaign over Issue 5, Streicher was reprimanded by a previous city manager for wearing his uniform while stumping against the amendment because it violated the city’s personnel policies. Streicher shrugged off the action, perhaps demonstrating how the old system led to complacency and defiance because the chief knew he couldn’t be fired unless he committed a felony-level criminal offense.
Voters ultimately sided with supporters and approved the amendment 52-48 percent.
The FOP filed a lawsuit trying to overturn the amendment, which wound its way through the courts for years. In January 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the union’s appeal, leaving intact an earlier ruling by the State Employment Relations Board that upheld the charter amendment.
In the current search for a new chief, two of the four finalists were in-house candidates: Lt. Col James Whalen, an assistant chief who is the son of ex-Chief Larry Whalen and is a 25-year department veteran; and Lt. Col. Vincent Demasi, an assistant chief who is an ex-president of the police union and is a 29-year veteran with the CPD.
At his press conference, Dohoney made a point to mention that he spoke with Whalen and Demasi, and both pledged to support Craig. Let’s hope they do.
Now that the hot-headed, backward-thinking Streicher finally has left, it’s time to turn the page in the police department and give the many good rank-and-file officers a better caliber of leadership. They deserve it, and so do residents.
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