CINCINNATI – Incoming Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell’s life mission has been to bridge the gap between the police force and the public it serves.
He made those remarks during an introductory press conference at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon.
“Historically, if you look at problems that erupt into something significant, they normally deal with some type police-community discord,” Blackwell said. “And so my life’s mission has been to minimize that and to encourage other officers to improve the quality of life in the city of Columbus by engagement and getting to know people and building relationships.”
Currently serving as deputy chief overseeing support services in Columbus, Blackwell is a 26-year police veteran, who has worked in almost every division over the course of his career. He formally begins his tenure as chief on Sept. 30 at a starting salary of $132,000.
Blackwell took more than a $20,000 pay cut to lead the police department, he told WCPO over the weekend.
“One of my biggest contributions to (Columbus) is my ability to build relationships with the community, particularly the newcomer populations, the marginalized citizens; the people without a voice,” Blackwell said.
Addressing Violent Crime
Serious crime reported to Cincinnati police, which include crimes of violence coupled with property crimes, is down by 2 percent through Sept. 7 this year compared to same time period last year. And over a two-year span, serious crime has dropped by 19 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. A 53 percent jump in homicide so far this year compared to last year is the reality Blackwell faces. The increase is a key focus for Blackwell and the administration, they said Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, 70 to 75 percent in most urban environments are African-African males are being shot between ages 16 and 24 … somehow we need to step in and interrupt that cycle of violence,” Blackwell said. “I think we do it with a number of programs and engage young people.
“We have to do some tough law enforcement, too.”
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., who has the final hiring decision on all department heads within the city, outlined the process for selecting Blackwell as the new chief of police. The initial pool of 34 applicants was cut to 16 then to seven then to four by the 11-member screening committee, with over-the-phone interviews conducted intermittently.
The names of the four finalists, Blackwell; Mesa, Ariz. Deputy Chief Michael Dvorak; New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police Deputy Superintendent Jerry Speziale; and the only internal candidate Lt. Col. Paul Humphries, were then forwarded to Dohoney by the screening committee for his review.
“Deputy Chief Blackwell is experienced in urban policing, that’s what he has been doing,” Dohoney said at the press conference. “In choosing him to come here to be in Cincinnati, I was struck by the work he’s done with young people.”
Since 2008, Blackwell has served as safety chair on the Columbus Youth Violence Prevention Advisory Board. Its primary focus is to serve as a think-tank advisory panel to reduce youth violence, according to his resume.
“What we need is more effort and additional strategies … because if you look at the shootings that occur in Cincinnati, there is by and large a youthful population that is both doing the shooting and being shot,” Dohoney said. “The police department has to exert great efforts to make inroads to dent that population.”
Dohoney referenced Blackwell’s extensive experience working with minority groups and his willingness to embrace the use of technology as an investigative tool as leading factors to his hiring.
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.
“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. “We are in an environment where we will continually working with fewer resources, he is used to that, and still try to extract high-quality service from the men and women in the department.”
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.
The Craig Legacy
Blackwell plans on speaking with former Police Chief James Craig, who departed for his native Detroit in May. Blackwell is the second external and black police chief hire in Cincinnati’s history.
“I’ve probably studied Chief Craig more than any one person over the last month since I was in college,” Blackwell said. “I do plan on speaking with him later today or tomorrow (Wednesday).”
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