New Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell faces rise in homicides, dwindling resources

CINCINNATI – New Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell pledged to cautiously implement changes to the police department after he becomes more familiar with the agency. He said he'll be a transparent and fair executive.

Blackwell was officially sworn-in as police chief Monday, before local civic leaders, police department officials and family and friends Monday morning at the Duke Energy Center.

Blackwell inherits a police department that’s working to combat a rise in homicides and aggravated assaults despite a dwindling number of cops. The department has not graduated a recruit class since 2008, pushing the limits of staffing levels across the city.

After Monday’s 10 a.m. swearing-in ceremony at Duke Energy Center in downtown Cincinnati, the real work of piecing together a plan to address the city’s public safety issues begins. Blackwell told WCPO earlier this month that he plans on meeting with the executive command staff and the five district commanders after he becomes the city's top cop.

He will be meeting with City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. to outline broad initiatives during his first day on the job.

Blackwell, a longtime police officer in his native Columbus who was most recently that department's deputy chief overseeing support services, takes the reins of an agency rooted in tradition. He is only the second external hire for the police chief job in the agency’s history.

He plans to create a "change-management" team, comprised of current police officials and community members to discuss possible changes to the department.

"... too much change, or perpetual change, can paralyze an organization from delivering optimal service, either through confusion or negative morale,” Blackwell said during his remarks.

 

New Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell was officially sworn-in on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

Former colleague, Columbus Deputy Chief Thomas Quinlan, who was in attendance for the swearing-in ceremony, said Blackwell's known to be community oriented and supportive of his officers.

"He is certainly someone that listens and takes ideas, it doesn't have to be his idea," Quinlan said, who served with Blackwell for the last 20 years. "He'll take someone's idea and get them the resources to engage in new ideas."

Combating Homicides and Violent Crime

Blackwell said previously he wants to bolster what he considers to be a premier homicide investigative unit.

“They have great detectives and investigators in Cincinnati,” Blackwell said. “A lot of homicides are not preventable by law enforcement, we’re simply reacting to things that happen.”

Serious crime reported to Cincinnati police, which include crimes of violence coupled with property crimes, is down by 3 percent through Sept. 21 this year compared to same time period last year. And over a two-year span, serious crime has dropped by 13 percent.

But it's the crimes of violence – homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults – that grab headlines, lead evening newscasts and impact the public's perception of the safety of a city. Homicides are up 54 percent this year compared to the same time period last year and up 20 percent over a two-year span.

There’s also been nearly a 16 percent increase in the number of people shot this year compared to last – 329 compared to 285.

 

Incoming Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell will be sworn in as police chief at 10 a.m. on Monday at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

Nearly 40 percent of the city's slayings have occurred in District 3 - a spike of 62 percent compared to last year. District 3 covers East Price Hill, West Price Hill, Lower Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Millvale and Moosewood, North Fairmount, South Fairmount, Riverside, Saylor Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, Roll Hill and Westwood.

Staffing and Officer Morale

In what he’s been exposed to and studied, on the surface the police department appears to be top-heavy, he said.

“A lot of officers seem to be on specialized assignments throughout the city, so we’ll have to look at that because with scarce resources and scarce manpower, we have to make sure that we’re staffing in areas of priority,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell left the Columbus Police Department -- a department of 1,900 sworn officers covering 217 square miles. In Cincinnati, he will command a sworn officer staff of 963 that covers 77 square miles.

“It’s much more urban than Columbus, much more city-fied, if you will,” Blackwell said. “There are other issues based on gentrification that good policing definitely impacts.”

The last recruit class to graduate from the police academy was in 2008, said Fraternal Order of Police President Spc. Kathy Harrell. Also, the union begins its negotiations on a new contract with city in May 2014, she said.

“I need to know where people are currently, before making any changes,” Blackwell said. “Maybe trim here and add there, but it’s a delicate decision on how you move people around.”

First Order from the City Manager

One of the first directives City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. has given Blackwell is to expand the use of technology, particularly the use of the city’s surveillance camera network.

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 in South Fairmount 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.

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.

“He is very into the use of technology and of the challenges we have with us is being able to advance technology to help us work more efficiently,” Dohoney said during Blackwell’s introductory press conference earlier this month. “We are in an environment where we will be continually working with fewer resources, he is used to that."

But Dohoney added that Blackwell will need to be able to extract the same "high-quality service from the men and women in the department.”

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