The Next Police Chief

MH8yQWIPSeveral weeks have now passed since the firing of Jeffrey Blackwell from his position of Police Chief of the Cincinnati Police Department. The dust seems to have settled and those who were vocal over the validity of the firing have calmed their rhetoric. Certain Council members have accepted the fact that they were not included in the decision to let Blackwell go, community members who saw the good side of Blackwell have probably read the reports and decided that there were two sides of Jeffrey Blackwell that could not and should not be ignored. Now the focus has turned to the process of finding a new permanent police chief.

There are two schools of thought with regards to selecting the next police chief. First is that the next Chief should be selected internally from within the ranks of the Police Department. For historical perspective I will mention that prior to the yes vote on a charter amendment in 2001, all police chiefs came from within the ranks of the police department. The selection was made on the basis of a competitive examination process. Also back then, state civil service laws mandated that the promotional process would be open to those who held the rank directly below police chief, i.e., assistant police chiefs. The charter amendment took the position of police chief, fire chief, assistant police and fire chiefs and about 80 other top supervisory positions from various departments within the city government structure and removed them from the Civil Service process. All these positions were to be hired and fired at the discretion of the City Manager. When the voters approved the charter amendment, Tom Streicher was the sitting police chief. He was grandfathered in under the civil service system so the opportunity to hire a police Chief under the new charter amendment did not come for almost ten years.

The question today is whether the next police chief should be selected from within or from outside the ranks of the Cincinnati Police Department. This does not take away from the charter amendment as any person who meets the qualifications can apply for the position. During the last two selections, both external candidates and internal candidates applied for the position and in both cases, internal candidates were on the short lists but were not selected. I am reasonably certain that this hiring cycle will be no different. What is different is the person who will make the hiring decision. The new chief will be selected by current City Manager Harry Black. He can choose to hire someone who is external to the city or he can choose to hire someone who is currently a member of the Cincinnati Police Department. Although he has not officially announced he is applying for the position, Interim Police Chief Eliot Isaac seems to be at the front of the pack at this point in time. Mayor John Cranley has made it very clear that Isaac would, in his opinion, make an excellent police chief. But the Mayor does not hire the police chief, the City Manager does. But, and this is important, the City Manager is hired and fired by the Mayor. I have said in the past that the Police Chief position is a puppet position with the strings being pulled by the City Manager. The City manager position is also a puppet position, with the strings being pulled by the Mayor. I guess the big question would be, is anyone pulling the strings of the Mayor, and if so, who. The whole thing is way too political for my liking.

It is my opinion that the voters passed the issue in 2001 because they were not satisfied with the status quo due to recent riots and other events that put the police department in a bad light. I am confident it did not occur to most voters who voted for the issue that the sitting police chief would remain for another ten years. But primarily, it was not so much about widening the pool of candidates to select a police chief as it was about widening the pool of candidates to select a black police chief. It was clear under the current system that it would be some time before an African American candidate would be positioned to even compete, let alone be selected. And that is exactly how it turned out, once the opportunity presented itself ten years later. The first time a chief was selected from a national search, James Craig, an African American, was selected. Although James Craig was an effective Chief during his tenure, he did not stick around long enough to make a difference. The second opportunity to select from a national search and an African American was again selected. He clearly was not the best of the best as has been well documented in this blog, and as documented in his firing. I am not saying that Craig and Blackwell were selected solely on race, but then again, I am not saying they were not.

So the question remains, how will the next Police Chief be selected. Will he or she be selected from the best of the best of all applicants, or will he or she be picked based on the undocumented process of puppet string pulling. Personally, I think the process should be very transparent. If the next Police Chief is going to be selected from the national pool, that should be open to and able to pass deep scrutiny. If the next Police Chief is going to be selected on the Mayor’s preference, than they should just say that and save the taxpayers a lot of money. Nationwide searches by a professional head hunter agency aren’t cheap. What do you think?

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

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Tom Lind

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