Back in November 2001 voters approved Issue 5, an amendment to the city’s charter that gave the city manager the authority to hire and fire the chiefs and assistant chiefs in the Police and Fire departments rather than using a civil service process. Under the new system, those positions can be filled from outside current ranks rather than being limited to in-house candidates from a promotion list based on exam scores.
That’s not exactly a radical notion, but the change was fought by then-Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr., the police union, then-Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen and, oddly, Citizens for Community Values, the anti-porn crusaders based in Sharonville.
Supporters included then-Mayor Charlie Luken, three former mayors, three ex-city managers and the NAACP’s local chapter, then led by Norma Holt-Davis, among many others.
The political campaign was hotly contested. At one point, Streicher was reprimanded for campaigning while in uniform, which violated city rules. During a Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) breakfast one Saturday morning back then, Streicher told the crowd the amendment was unneeded, adding that city officials had been a “miserable failure” managing Cincinnati’s affairs.
(This from the man who oversaw the Police Department that had killed 15 African-American men in confrontations during a five-year period, a time in which no white suspects had been killed. Just six months before Streicher’s remarks, scattered rioting shook the city for three days following one of the police shootings.)
No matter, the amendment prevailed by a 52-48 percent vote.
That wasn’t the end, however: Under pressure from the FOP, Luken rescinded his support and tried to get City Council to relent on the provision during contract renegotiations with the union. Thankfully, council — led by then-member Pat DeWine, now a Hamilton County Common Pleas judge — resisted the mayor. Then the FOP filed administrative and legal challenges against the amendment, which took years to resolve.
Eventually the Ohio Supreme Court decided in January 2009 to dismiss the FOP’s appeal, which meant an earlier ruling by the State Employment Relations Board that upheld the amendment would remain in effect.
Streicher finally left in March 2011 after becoming fully vested in Ohio’s generous retirement plan for police officers, leaving with a $92,000 annual pension and low department morale in his wake.
Enter James E.
Craig, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, who began his job as Cincinnati’s police chief in August. Craig wasted little time in making changes, quickly ordering a comprehensive audit of the local department’s operations, with the city manager’s blessing.
Strategic Policy Partnership, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm, was hired for $61,000. During its two-month audit late last year, the firm assessed the current structure, operations and systems within the Cincinnati Police Department against national standards, identifying strategies that were notable for their effectiveness and areas that needed major reform.
And the firm found plenty that needed reform.
Among its findings, the audit found that the department had more supervisors and fewer rank-and-file officers and civilian employees than the national average. For example, Cincinnati’s ratio of police officers to sergeants is 4.77, while the national average is 6 or 7.
Also, the audit found that Cincinnati has the second-lowest number of civilians as a percentage of total department staffing out of all the cities it surveyed. Only 10 percent of Cincinnati’s staffing is civilian, compared to Milwaukee’s 27 percent, St. Louis’ 29 percent, and Toledo’s and Buffalo’s 16 percent. The audit recommended 51 positions that should be given to civilians, freeing up officers for actual police work.
Perhaps most importantly, the audit recommended transferring 57 people from specialized units to field patrol duties. Craig transferred 10 supervisors and 40 officers from those units on Jan. 23, with the remainder to occur once civilians are hired for their old duties.
Among the units being disbanded include the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which several studies have shown is ineffective. (Luken tried to disband DARE years ago, but pressure from local schools made him reconsider. Not coincidentally, Streicher was a leader of the national DARE organization.)
Craig has said no one will be demoted, although his or her duties might change. He expects the department will become more balanced through attrition.
Further, the 147-page audit states the local department has functioned under a “quasi-military” atmosphere with an “authoritarian management style.”
Here’s how the audit describes the “historical environment” of the Police Department.
“Management styles during this period were absolute and fairly authoritarian. Higher ranks in police agencies often managed by fear and intimidation. There was little communication between management and lower‐level officers; these officers were expected to do what they were told.”
Other recommendations include the formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Council; it should meet monthly with the chief to discuss policy, strategy and police effectiveness.
Also, each police district should have a similar advisory council, consisting of residents and business representatives from those neighborhoods.
Another recommendation is creating the position of community liaison, who will monitor the relationship between the community and the police department, along with coordinating volunteers and school resource officers.
“We must find a way to push community-oriented and data-driven policing at every level,” Craig said. “That’s why we’re pushing more resources into the districts, eliminating redundancy, and building our capacity for the future.”
Oh, and what about the FOP, which fought the reform effort in the department tooth and nail for years? Here’s what union president Kathy Harrell told The Enquirer.
“I think this has been very long overdue,” Harrell said. “I think it’s going to be a very interesting year.”