CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.
UPDATE: Supporters of fired Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell took to the steps of City Hall Cincinnati City Council chambers to voice their opposition to the chief's dismissal by City Manager Harry Black. Former chief Blackwell himself appeared at Council's public input session, though he was not invited to speak before Council. Afterward, he told reporters outside the chamber that he would file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city, saying he didn't learn why he was being fired from the city and that he still hasn't seen the reports released today about his performance.
Dozens crowded into Council chambers and signed up to speak in favor of the chief. At times, the public hearing got contentious, with Council members and Mayor John Cranley verbally sparring with each other.
Simpson said Blackwell was escorted from CPD HQ after firing. "If this is justified, give this man, Council, the public, the chance to read [the report against Blackwell]," Simpson said. That report had been released just hours earlier.
Councilmembers Simpson, Wendell Young, P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach, while acknowledging the seriousness of the charges against Blackwell, said they took deep issue with the way in which he was dismissed. They pointed to the fact they didnt' find out the firing was happening until this morning and that the swearing-in for the interim chief, Eliot Isaac, was taking place immediately after the public hearing.
The tense atmosphere was perhaps exacerbated by rows of chairs reserved for police officers and their families, leaving community members standing toward the back of the room. At times, the mayor took a strong, almost antagonistic approach to public commenters and his critics on Council. At one point, Cranley scolded Councilwoman
Yvette Simpson for raising her voice and cut her off, saying her
allotted six minutes were up. Later in the meeting, after several warnings, Cranley had a few members of the public removed by officers for interrupting while he was speaking.
Some Councilmembers, including former Cincinnati Police officer Young, questioned the appearance the large group of CPD officers in the room presented, saying it heightened tensions. City Manager Harry Black then dismissed many of the officers until the public hearing concluded.
Cranley and Black admonished Councilmembers and the public not to rush to judgement, and to read the report detailing the allegations against Blackwell. Cranley called the evidence against Blackwell "overwhelming" and said that anyone reading the report would conclude that Black "made the right choice."
City Manager Harry Black announced this morning that he has fired Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell due to "lack of sufficient and proper communication, particularly within the
command staff, coupled with a consistent and pervasive disregard for the
chain of command," according to a 35-page memo the city released today. That memo contained testimony from CPD officials alleging poor leadership from the chief.
The city also released a department climate assessment that says a lack of communication, leadership and technology has contributed to low morale and has put the department at risk of high rates of officer attrition.
Black announced that Assistant Police Chief Eliot Isaac, a 26-year veteran of CPD, will be the interim police chief.
Among the allegations against Blackwell in the report, which includes statements from CPD Specialist Scotty Johnson and Public Information Officer Tiffany Hardey, are charges that Blackwell has been verbally abusive and retaliatory toward officers, that he has been unavailable during critical moments in recent months, that he played favorites in assigning overtime, that he spent too much time self-promoting, including taking selfies at the funeral of murdered CPD officer Sonny Kim and that he used his perch as chief to get free tickets to sporting events.
Blackwell has been embattled for months. Early this summer, severance documents between Blackwell and the city came to light, though these were never signed by the chief and he asserted he was staying on the force. More recently, Cincinnati's Fraternal Order of Police announced a Sept. 14 meeting, and union leadership said officers would take a vote of no confidence in Blackwell.
Blackwell’s critics say the Cincinnati Police Department's critical staffing, communication and morale issues have festered this
summer as gun crimes rose, the department dealt with the shooting death of
officer Sonny Kim and other difficult circumstances challenged the department.
But the chief’s supporters, including some council members and other public figures, say he’s done a fantastic job during a difficult time in the city and that his potential ouster is political in nature. They point to the fact that when he was campaigning for mayor, Cranley asked then-City Manager Milton Dohoney not to hire a chief until the election was finished so the newly elected mayor could have a say in the hiring. Dohoney hired Blackwell despite this request. Blackwell’s supporters say Cranley would like to oust Blackwell and install his own choice for police chief.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters yesterday announced that University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing has been
indicted by a grand jury on murder charges for the shooting death of 43-year-old
Cincinnati resident Samuel Dubose. Deters also released body camera footage of the shooting at a news conference yesterday.
Hundreds took to the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse, and later to the streets of downtown, following the announcement. Tensing was arraigned on those charges this morning. He plead not guilty and is being held on a $1 million bond.
Nygel Miller says he was a friend of Samuel Dubose's from childhood. "We want justice," Miller says. "We want the release of those tapes. We want the officer charged. We want him removed from his duties. We want the officer to be talked about the way our young black men have been spoken about by this prosecutor."
Mayor John Cranley, Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and other city officials yesterday announced a police plan to put more cops on the streets, focus on “hot spots” of crime, restart the gang unit and reach out to youth. Blackwell acknowledged more cops alone won’t solve or prevent the city’s heightened levels of violent crimes and homicides, but he said changing the level of enforcement through new tactics, such as hot spot policing, could help. A lot of research supports hot spot policing, although the practice can sometimes backfire, as “stop and frisk” did in New York City, if it targets minorities.
Bill Nye the Science Guy today will debate Creation Museum owner Ken Ham. The debate will focus on evolution, which is overwhelmingly supported by science, and biblical creationism, which has no scientific evidence to support it. The debate will be streamed live here.
Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn is considering a run for the Ohio Senate. Winburn would run in the heavily Democratic 9th Senate District. So far, there are two likely Democratic opponents: former Councilman Cecil Thomas and State Rep. Dale Mallory. The seat is open because State Sen. Eric Kearney, the Democratic incumbent, is term limited.
Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel might get two Democratic opponents in this year’s election: Sean Feeney, a North College Hill resident who already filed, and potentially Paul Komerak, a member of the Hamilton County Democratic Party’s executive committee. If both Komerak and Feeney run, they could face off in a Democratic primary.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee unanimously approved tax credits for Tom + Chee to entice the grilled cheese and tomato soup chain to keep its headquarters downtown as it expands nationally. Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned whether tax breaks should be given so leniently, but other council members argued the tax deals keep jobs in the city.
City Council might structurally balance the budget and fix the underfunded pension system to stabilize Cincinnati’s bond rating.
The Ohio Senate is still mulling over ways to repeal Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. CityBeat covered the standards in greater detail here and here.
Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper wants to reform how the state picks outside law firms to avoid appearances of pay-to-play that have mired Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine. A previous Dayton Daily News investigation found firms lobbying for state assignments contributed $1.3 million to DeWine’s campaign.
Attorneys for the Ohio inmate next scheduled for execution asked for a stay to avoid a “lingering death” similar to the 26-minute, seemingly painful execution of Dennis McGuire. CityBeat covered McGuire’s execution and the concerns it raised in further detail here.
Enrollment in Ohio’s public colleges and universities dropped by 2 percent in the latest fall semester.
Ohio gas prices ticked up at the start of the week, but the lowest average was in Cincinnati.
Scientists claim space-grown vegetables are safe to eat.
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City officials on Monday announced a new public safety initiative that promises to put more cops on the streets, focus on “hot spots” of crime, restart the gang unit and do more to reach out to youth.
The comprehensive plan comes after a rough start to the year, with homicides and violent crime ticking up even as the weather remains cold.
Among other initiatives, the plan will add more cops on the ground through new hires, more overtime and a new recruit class — the first since 2008.
“The message to people is that help is on the way,” Mayor John Cranley said.
The plan will come at higher costs to an already-strained operating budget. Cranley said the Cincinnati Police Department set aside nearly $1 million for the proposal through June, while the remaining $5.6 million should be funded in the city’s $370-plus million operating budget.
When asked whether initiatives like the one announced Monday will hurt the budget, Cranley reiterated his long-standing position that public safety takes top priority in the city budget.
Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said the refocus intends to prevent, not just solve, crimes. He acknowledged more cops alone won’t end the city’s crime problem, but he argued increasing the level of evidence-based enforcement — through new tactics supported by more cops on the streets — could make a difference.
Cranley and Blackwell cautioned the results might not be immediate, but they said it’s an important step to stop levels of crime local residents are clearly unhappy with.
Hot spot policing carries a high level of empirical support. In two different studies from Rutgers and the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands, researchers argued the strategy doesn’t always displace crime; it can also prevent crime by deterring and discouraging future incidents in hot spots and surrounding areas — what researchers call a “diffusion” of benefits.
But the concept also needs to be executed carefully. In New York City, “stop and frisk” became a fairly unpopular type of hot spot policing after some reports found the strategy targeted racial makeups in neighborhoods more than levels of crime.
Of course, better policing isn’t the only way to combat crime. As two examples, lead abatement and ending the war on drugs could prevent violence by reducing aggression and eliminating a huge source of income for drug cartels.
This story was updated to include more information from the city manager’s memo.
Mayor John Cranley, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell and several other local leaders expect to announce a $1 million plan to add more cops, including a new recruit class, to help fight a local rise in homicides and violent crime. Besides the additional officers, the plan will also restart a unit focused on gangs and put more emphasis on "hot spots" of potential crime. The announcement follows a rough start to the year that's already experienced higher-than-normal levels of violence. CityBeat will cover the announcement in further detail as the news breaks.
A bill in the Ohio legislature could enable more clean needle exchanges. The bill wouldn't supply state or federal funding, but it would let any local health authority establish a syringe-exchange program without declaring a health emergency. Although some conservatives take issue with providing needles to drug users, officials say the program in Portsmouth, Ohio, cut countywide hepatitis C rates, nearly eliminated the number of needles found in parks and on sidewalks, and provided addicts a legally safe resource for help. CityBeat previously covered attempts to establish a local needle-exchange program in further detail here.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune on Friday officially dropped his long-shot bid for governor. Although Portune received a lot of attention from local media, he never mounted a credible campaign and drew harsh criticisms from fellow Democrats, who accused Portune of complicating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald's campaign against Republican Gov. John Kasich.
While some in the media focus on the horse race and fundraising goals, political scientists say partisan ties, national politics and the state of the economy play a much bigger role in deciding elections.
Southwestern Ohio should expect light snow today and a winter storm tomorrow.
Young women who take the HPV vaccine are not more likely to have sex or take part in unsafe sexual practices, a study from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found.
Denver Broncos fans yesterday got a taste of what it's like to support the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose.
January birthed a few cute zoo animals.
If it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments, Cincinnati might not face an operating budget gap in 2015. The city has lost roughly $26 million in annual state aid since 2010, according to city officials, while the budget gap for 2015 is estimated at nearly $21 million. The reduction in state aid helps explain why Cincinnati continues dealing with budget gaps after years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes. Still, some council members argue Democratic council members should stop blaming Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature for the city's problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.
Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department yesterday explained the local increase in homicides to City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee. Police officials said gang-related activity, particularly activity related to the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade, is to blame for the spike in crime in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati. In particular, it appears disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories led to turf wars and other violent acts. Police also cautioned, "Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature."
The Democratic primary election for governor heated up yesterday after Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune called Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's commitment to blacks "appalling" in an email obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Prominent Democrats at the state and local level responded to the criticisms as more evidence Portune shouldn't continue to run and threaten Democrats' chances of a clean gubernatorial campaign. Portune announced his intention to run last week, despite calls from top Democrats to stay out of the race.
The weather also slowed down streetcar construction.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld: "Five Lessons From Cincinnati's Little Engine That Could."
The Cincinnati Board of Education chose its veteran members to head the school board in 2014.
Cincinnati-based Citigroup, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Humana and U.S. Bank gained perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign's index for gay-friendly companies.
About 34 percent of Ohio third-graders could be held back if they do not improve their scores on the state's reading assessments. The chairs of the Ohio House and Senate's education committees argue the aggressive approach is necessary to improve the state's education outcomes. But the National Association of School Psychologists found grade retention has "deleterious long-term effects" both academically and socially.
Kentucky is spending $32 million for substance abuse treatment to tackle the heroin epidemic.
Ohio Democrats named a new executive director for the state party: Liz Walters. The Silver Lake, Ohio, native began her political career with the Girl Scouts when she worked for the organization as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
Typically allies on other issues, liberals and the scientific community disagree on genetically modified crops.
A pill normally taken as a mood stabilizer could help people acquire perfect pitch.
Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department testified in front of City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee Monday to address the local increase in homicides.
The city’s homicide rate hit 25 per 100,000 residents in 2013, compared to the U.S. rate of 4.7 per 100,000 in 2012, following a spike in homicides in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati, according to police statistics.
“The concern has been the sheer number of homicides we experienced in 2013 and the number of juvenile victims we had this year,” said Assistant Chief Dave Bailey.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman also highlighted the high levels of black-on-black crime, which Chief Jeffrey Blackwell agreed are unacceptable across the country.
“My fear is that my son, who’s African-American … is going to be killed by another African-American,” Smitherman said. “That’s what those stats are saying.”
The key driver of the increases, according to police, is gang-related activity, particularly activity involving the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade.
“If our theory is correct, most of these homicides involve narcotic sales, respect and retaliation,” Bailey said.
Chief Blackwell explained the increase in homicides appears to be particularly related to disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories.
“Criminal territories have been disrupted, and we’ve seen an increase in turf wars and neighborhood situations between young people,” he said. “Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn asked what council could do to help remedy the situation.
“We are significantly short of police officers, so we desperately need a recruit class,” Blackwell responded. “We need to improve our technology platform here in the police department.”
Blackwell cautioned that there’s not a direct correlation between more police officers and less homicides, but he said another recruit class could help the city meet basic needs.
Flynn claimed council is very willing to meet those needs, given the importance of public safety to the city’s prosperity.
“If we’re not safe and we don’t have the perception that we’re a safe city, none of the rest of the great things we do as a city are going to help,” he said.
How council meets those needs while dealing with fiscal concerns remains to be seen, considering Mayor John Cranley and a majority of council members ran on the promise of structurally balancing the city’s operating budget for the first time in more than a decade.
City officials have vowed to avoid raising taxes and cutting basic services, which makes the task of balancing the budget all the more difficult. Advancing promises of more spending for the police department further complicates the issue, even if it’s politically advantageous in a city seriously concerned about public safety.
Cincinnati Police will hold several town hall meetings in
the next week to hear concerns from citizens. The meetings will span
across all local districts:
• District 2: Jan. 7, Medpace, Inc., 5375 Medpace Way.
• District 3: Jan. 8, Elder HS Schaeper Center, 3900 Vincent.
• District 1 and Central Business District: Jan. 9, River of Life Church, 2000 Central Parkway.
• District 5: Jan. 13, Little Flower Church, 5560 Kirby Ave..
• District 4: Jan. 14, Church of the Resurrection, 1619 California Ave.
Correction: The local homicide rate for 2013 was 25 per 100,000 residents, contrary to the 15.5 per 100,000 rate cited by police officials to City Council.