Early changes to cruisers, uniforms go beyond visibility, says Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell

CINCINNATI – Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell is studying the Cincinnati Police Department and the citizens it serves.

The early changes he’s implemented reflect what he’s learned over the course of his first 50 days on the job, and, he says, the changes aren’t only for maximizing efficiency but to fulfill promises of vibrant community engagement and increased police transparency.

He’s learned that Cincinnatians are well informed about policing strategies and want to know when there’s an officer nearby for help, he said.

The subtle changes include red and blue lights lit on the light bars of all marked cruisers, foot patrol beat cops in Over-the-Rhine and downtown for the holidays, and requiring officers to wear their hats when working event and traffic assignments. He’s also begun to assemble his change-management team and police chief advisory board.

Measures to boost police visibility go far beyond representing the department, they also act to prevent and deter crime, Blackwell said after attending a meet-and-greet event hosted by Uptown Consortium Wednesday night at the Kingsgate Marriott.

“Sure, we can hide in the bushes and have the Batman bush fall down and jump out from behind and chase, but wouldn’t we much rather prevent the crime from happening in the first place?” Blackwell said.

“It’s a deterrent, and what’s equally important, is that the good folks that are going to and from work also feel safe because they see a police car.”

It’s estimated to cost about $10,000 to reprogram the department’s 258-marked cruiser fleet. Officers will be able to deactivate the non-strobe lights with a flip of a switch, should they be conducting covert assignments, he said.

The adjustments also fall in line with Blackwell’s approach to tackling quality-of-life issues in the city’s neighborhoods. People are far more affected by a number of other criminal activities aside from violence, such as loitering, graffiti, public urination, panhandling, littering and drug-dealing in public spaces, Blackwell said.

“The reduction of the fear of crime is key,” Blackwell said. “It’s very important, because the shootings, the stabbings, make headlines, but the reality is most people care about the crack house on their street, or the graffiti, because that affects their ability to enjoy life.”

Blackwell is in the process of writing a memo to City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. outlining what he’s done so far.

The Hats are Back

As for the hats being back, Blackwell knows what it’s like to be on the street. The requirement might appear to be a throwback to a bygone era, but Blackwell is not a traditionalist, he said.

When officers are actively engaged in police work, they are not required to wear their hats -- it’s preferred, but not mandated. When they’re walking or patrolling their beat, on special event assignment or getting lunch, Blackwell expects the hat to be on.

“I was (an) in-the-trenches guy myself, but when you’re not actively engaged, represent the city of Cincinnati and the department in the best possible light, look professional,” Blackwell said. “The hat is part of that. To me, it’s a simple request.”

Foot Patrols for the Holidays, and Maybe Beyond?

Blackwell is also handpicking 10 officers from the city’s five districts to walk beats in Over-the-Rhine and downtown during the holidays. He admitted some of his commanders are hesitant to give up officers.

“I got a little pushback, and it was well warranted because anytime you try to take officers from them, they’re already short,” Blackwell said.

He believes foot patrols will foster a symbiotic relationship with people in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.

“Sadly, most officers know the names of the bad guys, but I want the officers to know the names and faces of the good guys, too.”

Blackwell is seeking ways to reduce the size of units that perform duties other units can already do. By doing so, the department will have a little more flexibility in assigning officers to other areas, such as foot patrols.

“We seem to have a lot of duplicity of efforts, we have a lot units that seemingly engage in the same type of crime-fighting, but is that the best use of our people?” Blackwell said.

For the increased foot patrols, Blackwell has picked two officers from each district and placed them on 30-day special assignment for the holidays. Beyond that, Blackwell is going to have to make a decision on forming a new foot-patrol unit or open it up for city officers to sign up.

Blackwell will rely on the change-management team he’s forming – a group of officers of various ranks led by criminal investigations commander Capt. Elliot Isaac – to advise him on changes moving forward.

Expect the team to advise Blackwell on improving methods for citizens to file police reports faster, through an improved telephone reporting unit and new online system, he said.

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