COLUMBUS – For the first time since the formal announcement of his hiring, incoming Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell admitted to experimenting with cocaine before he was a police officer. He also shed light on the “transgressions” of his daughter.
His admission, he said, is an example of the transparent style he will bring to the job of being Cincinnati’s top cop. He starts on Sept. 30 with a starting salary of $132,000.
“I don’t think there are too many kids that don’t experiment with something,” Blackwell told WCPO on Monday.
The issue of Blackwell's cocaine use came last year when he was interviewing for the police chief position in Columbus. He said he admitted then and again reiterated Monday he used the illegal drug during a college party when he attended Mt. Vernon Nazarene University.
“I was honest, I was maybe naive or whatever, but this is what I’ve done and this is who I am,” Blackwell said. “And that was that.”
Blackwell did not specify how many times he experimented with the drug, but published reports indicate he did twice.
Regarding his daughter, Ashley Blackwell, 28, he said she committed “transgressions” over recent years and she’s working to correct them. His oldest daughter has had some scrapes with law enforcement as an adult. Most recently, she was on a list in Columbus for people who were wanted on outstanding warrants.
“My daughter is 28 years old and has not lived in my household since she was 20,” Blackwell said. “ … She’s struggling and certainly people out there understand that family’s aren’t perfect and we can’t control our kids, even when they’re in the house.
“She was a great student and great young person, and kind of lost her way when she got older. I hope she finds her way as she grows older and loses some of that ridiculous behavior.”
Blackwell: Cincinnati Is A Destination Spot
Blackwell said during the interview process with the 11-member screening committee and with City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., they questioned him about whether he viewed the Cincinnati police chief position as a long-term job.
“Yes,” he said. “The selection committee really believed me when I said I wasn’t coming to Cincinnati as a launching ground to for a bigger or better chief’s job somewhere else, not that anyone else has done that.”
Blackwell will be formally introduced to his new city on Tuesday at a planned 1 p.m. press conference with Mayor Mark Mallory.
Born and raised in Columbus, Blackwell said the close proximity gives him an advantage because of the cultural similarities between the two cities. He plans on eventually relocating his family, too, but said his youngest son, a 14-year-old eighth-grade student, doesn’t want to move.
“He told me, ‘Dad, I’m going to hitchhike up (Interstate) 71 if you take me down there,’” Blackwell said.
Blackwell, 51, is married with three children. His oldest is a senior at the University of Kentucky. He wants to stay close to his extended family, and said he feels privileged to land a police chief job so close to his hometown.
“I’m very family-oriented, and it was important for me not to go too far away, even though I wanted to challenge myself,” Blackwell said. “It’s too important for me to stay close to my roots.”
Within the first three years of his tenure, Blackwell wants to focus quality-of-life issues and expand the use of technology and earn accreditation from The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA).
Quality-of-life policing is a practice of policing a number of minor criminal activities such as loitering, graffiti, public urination, panhandling, littering and unlicensed street vending in public spaces because, Blackwell argues, if left unattended, that may lead to more violent crime.
“We focus a lot of police work on felonious crimes, which is important, but also the majority of people in Cincinnati are affected by the small stuff than the major stuff,” Blackwell said. “All of those things impact a neighborhood’s quality of life for all the residents
“When an elderly person can’t safely feel they can go to the corner market and get a pint of milk because of gang loitering, that’s something we should take a look at it.”
One of the first directives Dohoney has given Blackwell is to expand the use of technology, particularly the use of the city’s surveillance camera network. Blackwell is cognizant of the public’s concern of the use of an expansive camera system, but insists it’s a necessary tool that serves as a crime deterrent as much as an evidence-gathering mechanism.
Since neighborhood crime cameras were first installed in the Central Business District in 2009, they have become standard a investigative tool, and police detectives are relying on them more than ever. The six officers at the real-time crime center have pulled video from the city’s 130 cameras 74 times through Aug. 1. That’s compared to 93 in all of 2012 and 57 times in 2011.
“Nowadays, every parking garage, every downtown building, already have cameras, so people
don’t have an expectation of privacy walking down the street,” Blackwell said. “Cameras are great deterrent to crime, flat out – I know it works.
“It makes the environment more difficult for criminals to operate in.”