Competing agendas, politicians and leading the rank-and-file: Being police chief is not easy

CINCINNATI – In the coming weeks, Cincinnati will have a new police chief -- one who will need to be a jack of all leadership trades: politician, union negotiator and community soothsayer.

That’s what being a modern metro area chief is all about, and it isn’t easy, experts and local civic leaders say.

In the days of shrinking budgets and figuring out how to do more with less, the skills needed to be Cincinnati's next top cop are more akin to a Fortune 500 CEO. The job has very little to do with the mechanics of policing.

The four finalists, one of whom ultimately will be chosen by City Manager Milton Dohoney to lead the nearly 1,000-member department, were narrowed last week to:

• Jeffrey Blackwell, Deputy Chief – Columbus, Ohio Police Department
• Michael Dvorak, Deputy Chief – Mesa, Arizona Police Department
• Jerry Speziale, Deputy Superintendent – NY/NJ Port Authority Police
• Paul Humphries, Interim Police Chief – Cincinnati Police Department

A person with vast police experience and the will to build on what former Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig accomplished are among the qualities police and civic leaders say they are looking for in the city's next chief.

Most believe Craig's less-than-two-year tenure was a success, particularly his ability to delicately balance a community-oriented and the more conventional law-and-order approach to policing.

The goal of community-oriented policing is to bring the police and the public closer to identify and address crime issues. Instead of merely responding to emergency calls and arresting suspects, police officers work to ferret out the cause of crime and disorder, and attempt to creatively solve problems in assigned communities.

Mayoral Candidates Weigh In

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and former city councilman John Cranley, the leading contenders for the mayor’s seat in the fall, have contrasting ideas on what the want from the new police chief.

Qualls, who has worked with former police chiefs Michael Snowden, Tom Streicher Jr. and James Craig during her time on city council, said it’s imperative that the "positive momentum" created under Craig continue.

“Any choice among people there will always be a difference in styles, but the priority is, regardless of style, that the individual is able to establish partnerships with community and is inclusive,” Qualls said.

Of utmost importance to Qualls is that the next chief is willing to engage the community in crime-reduction efforts, she said. Craig set a standard in community outreach and especially with minority communities, she added. 

Cranley said this hire is second only in importance to the city manager.

“We don’t have enough cops, and we’re going to have a good chief, but the question is where is the priority for public safety?” Cranley said. “We’re going to need to reorganize our priorities moving forward.”

Neither Cranley nor Qualls has a preference for an internal or external candidate, they said.

“My preference is that (Interim Chief) Paul Humphries can handle the job on an interim basis through the election, and my preference is that they wait for the new mayor, and I think it’s important for whoever gets elected to have their imprint on who the chief is,” Cranley said.

A Sitting Chief’s Perspective

For a metropolitan police chief, a blend of administrative and operations experience is key, experts said. Every chief must be able to address personnel issues, such as grievances, complaints and promotions, as well as operational practices.

The perfect blend is ideal for a police chief.

“I want to know what’s going on day-to-day, and I try not to micro-manage, but when you’ve done the job and worked homicides and stuff, it’s really tough to not be so engaged,” said city of Hamilton Police Chief J. Scott Scrimizzi, who was hired in March 2012.

Scrimizzi served as detective division commander and patrol lieutenant before being promoted to chief, so he said his operational background gives him so pull with rank-and-file officers. Admittedly, though, he said he wishes he possessed more administrative skills.

“When I became chief here, it was a total shell-shock for me to go from doing police work, to do doing no police work,” Scrimizzi said. “It’s almost to the point you have so many external factors, that you have to rely on your assistant chiefs to do a lot of the internal stuff, because you’re so busy with the external things.”

It’s essential for the next chief to understand the “science” of policing, Scrimizzi said. Meaning, the next Cincinnati chief will need to value crime analysis, sociology and the problem-solving components to policing or finding out what is driving crime, he said. One way is through community outreach programs, or better known as community-oriented policing.

Staying in tune with local civic, minority and historical organizations to not only development contacts, but to help identify and solve crime issues. It also helps in being approachable leader, he said.

“I reached out to the ministers in the city right off

the bat because we were having some racial issues, I think that people know when they deal with me they may not like what they’re going to hear, but I don’t candy-coat a whole lot of stuff, and I shoot from the hip,” Scrimizzi said.

For Dayton, Ohio, Police Chief Richard Biehl, who was a Cincinnati police officer for more than 20 years and served as an assistant police chief from 1998 to 2004, prioritizing and delegating duties to the executive command staff is paramount when managing an effective metropolitan agency.

“The pace is rather furious so identifying what are the most important issues that need my direct attention is a biggest challenge – what do I handle and what do I pass off?” Biehl said. “Your success is measured by whom you choose to be your immediate subordinate or second in command.”

in recent years, the shift in policing tactics has meant a shift in the kind of police leadership skills, Biehl said. Policing has shifted to focus more on proactive, community outreach strategies as opposed to reactive emergency response. 

“At the risk of repeating history, you better be in tune with your community, and certainly be visible and accessible,” Biehl said. “There is some inherent friction that will come along with police action in communities from time to tome, but if it is a day-to-day experience of friction, that is really the bed for problems to follow.

“If it’s not acceptable to the community, good things are not going to follow.”

Figuring out how to do more with less and coming up with creative strategies to keep a city safe is among top priorities, experts said.

“Basically, how can we work smarter, not harder?” Biehl said. “We can’t throw cops at problems, because we have less and less officers to do everything, we have to be smart about we’re doing.”

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