CINCINNATI – Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell was planning to cheer on his son’s alma mater at a high school playoff game Saturday night.
But as he was making his way north to Lakota West High School to watch Pickerington Central in the first-round playoff matchup, he turned around to respond to the scene of the officer-involved pedestrian traffic accident on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.
He arrived moments after the victim, Natalie Cole, was taken to the hospital. He spent the next hour, alongside Executive Assistant Chief Paul Humphries, surveying the scene that left Cole critically injured.
Blackwell, though, opted to not address the media personally, rather deferring to Night Inspector Lt. Michael Savard.
He told WCPO that his decision is a reflection of his management style, empowering others to take the lead when necessary.
“That’s absolutely my management style,” Blackwell said following his Monday press conference detailing the events of Saturday night. “I want to be there, and I will be the face of this department when it’s serious enough, not that that run wasn’t serious. However, if I take over every scene, I’m not cultivating a premise of leadership around here.”
He said he wanted to encourage his commanders to take the information reins. And, he added, the responding lieutenants and supervisors could provide more primary information.
“Everyone here is a big boy and big girl with bars and clovers and stripes, and they’re expected to be leaders as well,” said Blackwell, referencing the different insignias for each rank. “I don’t want to usurp that authority from them and just automatically have them assume that if I show up they can stand down and I’ll handle everything.”
The newly hired Blackwell has been on the job since Sept. 30. His style is notably different than the two previous chiefs, both of whom had press conferences to share information with the public within hours of major police-involved incidents.
That style was forced after the 2001 riots, when Cincinnati Police was criticized for its lack of transparency. As a result, the Collaborative Agreement was forged with the U.S. Department of Justice, mandating engaged community policing and the creation of a Citizens Complaint Authority.
Since the riots, police chiefs, including Col. Thomas H. Streicher, Jr., James Craig and, on an interim basis, Humphries, routinely provided detailed information within hours of a police-involved incident. It became commonplace that the chiefs would also provide presentations on their investigation, 911 calls and diagrams.
In July, for example, when Officer Bryan Gabel fatally shot Roger Ramundo, who suffered from mental illness, the police department provided a detailed account of the incident the following morning.
On Monday, Blackwell briefed the media on the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s crash, approximately 45 hours after the incident.
“It would be remiss of me to make comments prematurely. Some chiefs like to say no comment at all, other chiefs probably say too much too early and have to retract and apologize and so forth,” Blackwell said.
One response doesn’t fit all, Blackwell said. He also wants his assistant chiefs, Lt. Col. James Whalen, Lt. Col. Dave Bailey and Humphries, to provide information to the public from their respective divisions.
“We ask ourselves, ‘Who needs to be out in front of this?’” Blackwell said. “It’s not going to be me every time, I can tell you that right now, because that’s not fair to our leaders that have their shop. I’m not going to automatically supersede them to appease the media.”