The man that some City Council members want to put in control of policing in Cincinnati once blamed liberal judges, feminists, atheists, civil libertarians, and gays and lesbians as responsible for crime in U.S. society.
Cincinnati officials spent five years and millions of dollars trying to improve police-community relations in the wake of the 2001 riots, as part of a series of reforms mandated by a federal court that became known as the Collaborative Agreement. Now some of the people involved in that process are worried that a proposal to abolish the local Police Department and contract services to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office could jeopardize the progress.
To help cut costs and avoid a $62 million deficit, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and City Councilmen Jeff Berding, Chris Bortz and Wendell Young have proposed axing the city's Police Department and letting the Sheriff's Office assume law enforcement duties in Cincinnati. Mayor Mark Mallory and several other council members are opposed, meaning the proposal likely is dead on arrival.
Still, some people are concerned by the overture.
Local civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, who helped negotiate the Collaborative Agreement, said the most important reform was an acknowledgment by all sides that police and residents must become proactive partners engaged in community problem-solving.
"Responses driven by careful study of the problems and that engage the community are most likely to both reduce crime and be perceived as fair by the community," Gerhardstein said. "We have seen just that in Cincinnati. Overall crime has dropped in the city since the reforms were implemented. And perceptions of police in the black community have slowly inched upwards. Fair and bias-free policing is an important goal of the Collaborative."
He added, "The terms of the agreement are now integrated into the CPD policies and procedures ...We have see no backsliding yet. We will resist any backsliding toward the old ways of doing business. One of those old ways was simply'patrolling' and responding to service calls without studying the service calls, identifying problems and being proactive partners with the community to avoid crime. The CPD is doing that now and the Sheriff's Office is not."
It's not only Gerhardstein expressing concern; some police supervisors are privately wondering what will happen to all of the work that they've done to improve the department during the past decade.
For example, city officers receive far more training that sheriff's deputies, and the department has specialized units like the one to deal with mentally impaired suspects.
As evidence of what concerns them, they point to an incendiary speech given by Leis five years ago.
When Leis addressed the annual Police Memorial Day gathering on Fountain Square in 2005, instead of commemorating the men and women in law enforcement who had given their lives in the line of duty, the feisty sheriff used the occasion for a bizarre, extremist speech that denounced homosexuality, feminism, civil liberties, atheists and other aspects of what he called the "satanic pestilence" overtaking the community.
Leis' radical, hateful speech was ignored by local media, except CityBeat.
As a CityBeat columnist wrote at the time, "Leis turned the annual Police Memorial Day, held May 10 on Fountain Square, into a virtual religious revival, damning liberal judges, atheists, 'the perversion of the Internet,' violent video games and other elements of a society he sees as speeding to hell.
"Never mind the fact that county sheriffs generally aren't expected to use their office to promote a particular religion," the column added. "What's really appalling is Leis' weird interpretation of the history of the Constitution."
The columnist was referring to Leis' allegation that Supreme Court rulings that prohibited the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, or requiring public school students to recite prayers, were responsible for a surge in violent crime and general lawlessness in American society.
"Our country is in great peril, not from an approaching army but from a satanic pestilence that has already invaded our nation with a drug-infested culture, littering our country and neighborhoods with untold corpses and its collateral family damage," Leis said.
"The gay and lesbian coalitions, rabid feminist groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (are) all competing for power," the sheriff added. "Many use their political action committee funds to influence elected officials, to represent these parasitic groups who proselytize and force us, under the protection of law, to tolerate and accept their despicable conduct and agenda."
Never one to let facts get in the way of his alarmist dogma, Leis said, "Daily we learn of the mass killing of students in our schools, shootings taking place in day-care centers and places of worship. Is there any wonder why so many young people are committing such horrible crimes against innocent victims, when we protect the rights of atheists, and abolish the recognition of Almighty God in our classrooms?
"As concerned citizens and Christians, we need to display and read in our classrooms once again, and with pride, the Ten Commandments, the Judeo-Christian foundation of our entire constitutional system of law," he said, with flourish.
As CityBeat reported then, University of Cincinnati professor Jay Twomey discovered that the sheriff's vitriol wasn't even original; Leis had lifted virtually the entire speech verbatim from a diatribe given by a sheriff in Lee County, Florida.
Leis has served as sheriff since 1987. Before then, he served as County Prosecutor from 1971-83, and as a Common Pleas judge from 1983-87. Leis is perhaps best-known for prosecuting Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt in 1977 on obscenity charges. The case was later dramatized in the 1996 film, The People vs. Larry Flynt, in which Leis was portrayed by James Carville.
Although Leis won the case, Flynt's conviction later was overturned by an appellate court.
Also, Leis was involved with the 1990 decision to prosecute Dennis Barrie, then-director of the Contemporary Arts Center, for obscenity in connection with mounting an exhibit of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe. Barrie was acquitted by a jury.
Both incidents cost taxpayers a sizable amount of money, and gave Cincinnati a black eye on the national scene as a repressive, backwater burg — an image it's still battling decades later.
Given Leis' antiquated and unusual views, we're left to wonder just how much money he would waste through pursuing unfounded charges and the deluge of lawsuits likely to follow.
Smart idea, Qualls and crew.