Police morale already up, city manager says

Posted at 5:58 AM, Sep 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-11 05:58:07-04

CINCINNATI -  With Jeffrey Blackwell gone and Eliot Isaac in charge, things are already looking up in the Cincinnati Police department, the city manager said Thursday.

One day after firing Blackwell as chief, City Manager Harry Black said he already saw an improvement in morale, and Isaac, the enthusiastic interim chief, expressed confidence he can fix the department's problems and unify the command staff that was alienated by his predecessor.

"We're already seeing a change in the overall mood of the department. People are feeling relaxed. They're feeling relieved. They're feeling re-energized,"  Black said after doing an interview on WDBZ Radio. "We will see more and more of that each day under the new leadership."

If pictures are worth a thousand words, the scene at District 1 – where Isaac attended afternoon roll call and met with his two assistant chiefs, David Bailey and Douglas Wiesman – spoke volumes about improving morale and communication from the rank-and-file up to the command staff.

Standing at roll call with two dozen officers, Isaac said:  "We're going to make sure you guys never have to guess what direction we're going as an agency."

He took questions and officers had to be happy with his answers.

Asked about getting 30 more officers in cars answering radio runs, the interim chief said: "We've already come up with a plan to deploy 24. That's happening this Sunday. We're going to look at finding those additional bodies."

And Isaac promised more.

 "There are a lot of things coming. Body cams. New cars. New tablets to replace the MDSs in the cars. New radios," he said.

Isaac, Black's choice to replace Blackwell, was rarin' to go.

"I believe that I'm prepared for this position," Isaac told WCPO. "One of the first things that I'm going to be able to do, I think, is give the city a unified command staff. That's something we haven't had for some time.

"We're ready to move the department in a positive direction."

Besides improving morale and communication, Isaac said his immediate goal is getting back to the business of fighting violent crime in Cincinnati.

"We know we need to get our hands around our uptick in the shootings and violent crime. We need to make sure that we're doing the things that the agency should be doing," he said.

Isaac, a 28-year veteran, said he is proud to be the first African-American officer and Sentinels member to rise from within the department to chief. The last two chiefs, Blackwell and James Craig, both black, were hired from outside the city.

Speaking on WLW Radio earlier in the say, Isaac, 49, was adamant in saying that Blackwell's firing Wednesday was not racially motivated.


"This was not about race. I know some instances are racially charged, but this one wasn't. Absolutely [not]," Isaac said. "I think those people that pay attention, who read the documents presented … people who are intelligent will see that for themselves."

Isaac, promoted to Executive Assistant Chief by Black just 50 days ago, said Black told him "to embrace the job as if I was the permanent chief, and that's what I'm going to do."

Isaac stopped short of declaring he wants to be the permanent chief, but it seemed clear that's his goal. He indicated that he wants to prove himself first.

"I'm a Cincinnati native. I was here in 2001 [during the riots]. I've got my blood, sweat and tears in this. I'm going to be here whether it's in the No. 1 seat or the No. 2 seat," Isaac said.

"I want to make sure I'm the right person. I know I'm the right guy. I want the people of Cincinnati to see that."

Isaac is the fourth chief in four years and he said the department needs stability.

"The city and the community deserve some cohesiveness. The men and women in blue want it," he said.

Isaac took pains to not criticize Blackwell - "it's not my place to critique him" -  but he did say morale was "very low."

"Rank-and-file members expressed to me that they were frustrated," Isaac said.

"[Officers] need to feel believed. They need to feel supported."

He also acknowledged that he had seen for himself Blackwell's distrust and abusive behavior toward the command staff.

"When questioned, I had to speak honestly and say what I had observed," Isaac said.

Isacc was one of seven assistant chiefs and captains who put their complaints about Blackwell in writing. Their personal statements were attached to Black's report to city council announcing Blackwell's firing.

READ Black's report here or below.

Black said it was his call to fire Blackwell and Mayor John Cranley was only given a heads-up.

"This decision, let me be clear. This is not a conspiracy at all," Black said on WLW. "This is a decision that was made by the city manager. The mayor had absolutely no involvement in this decision."

According to the city charter, the mayor does not have to be informed about the firing of the police chief.

After a summer of antagonism and drama between the city manager and chief, Black said the "tipping point" came recently in a flood of employee complaints. Some even said they to seek medical treatment due to the stress.

"With the Climate Assessment under way, which is now completed, I would receive weekly reports from the consulting firm and I could begin to see patterns developing," Black said.

"Then, three weeks ago, employees began to come to me unsolicited expressing their concern as well as their issues. Once I realized that these employees were having to seek medical treatment because of the environment in which they to had to work and subsequently received medication to cope with the day-to-day of work, I said as city manager I have to do something because this situation has deteriorated to a degree that was much swifter than I had anticipated."

Black described how he would conduct a search for a permanent chief.

"I will be reaching out to a variety of people throughout the entire community seeking feedback and based on that feedback we'll determine the best course of action," he said.

No matter who else is considered, Isaac figures to be at or near the top of the list. It was Black, not Blackwell, who promoted the Forest Park High School and Xavier University grad to the No. 2 position in July. Clearly, Isaac has already made a good first impression on the city manager.

"It's what I've always known about him from the first time I met him when he was speaking after a murder incident and he was basically briefing everyone. I was very impressed then with his articulation, with his command of [his] position," Black said. "And he currently is operating and carrying himself in the same manner."

According to Black's report, Blackwell created "a work environment of hostility and retaliation." Black said Blackwell disregarded the chain of command - relying on "hand-selected" officers instead - and that had a "significantly negative effect" on the department's effectiveness.

Black had publicly expressing support for Blackwell for months even after a rift developed between them. Blackwell had the city draw up a separation agreement in May, then declined to sign it. Black publicly ordered Blackwell to come up with a 90-day plan to fight the spike in shootings in the city and gave Blackwell less than a week to do it. Then Black started a Climate Assessment to look into reported problems in the department.

Click here to read Black's entire statement