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OPED: Take time on search for next chief

Posted at 2:23 PM, Sep 19, 2015

The tumultuous coup d’etat at police headquarters is complete and City Hall’s man has been installed as police chief.

That shouldn’t be the end of the story.

Mayor John Cranley and his city manager, Harry Black, need to conduct a thorough, legitimate, national search for a permanent chief. 

This is no knock against Eliot Isaac, whom Black appointed as interim chief the same day he fired former Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. Isaac is a veteran of the Cincinnati Police Department, rising through the ranks over his 27 years to work in criminal investigations, internal investigations and as a district commander in key neighborhoods, including Avondale, Walnut Hills and Bond Hill.

Interim Chief Eliot Isaac

He appears to have the respect of the police rank-and-file, and that may be his most-needed trait right now. That’s something Blackwell either lost or never had. He’s promised to continue the department’s progress in improving community relations, while at the same time suggesting that a tougher approach to the city’s gunfire epidemic is coming. Both are needed.

Isaac would make a solid chief of police, if he decides he’s interested in becoming more than interim. But community perceptions are still raw over Blackwell’s firing. And the perception lingers that Cranley and Black created a crisis so they could remove Blackwell, whom they inherited from the previous administration, and choose their own leader.

By engaging in a deliberate, systematic, national search, they would help ease some of the neighborhoods’ concerns about a City Hall power play at the police department.

Cranley, left, and Black

That search should be as open and transparent as possible. Community stakeholders such as the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission and the University of Cincinnati should be part of it. 

If an internal candidate is ultimately selected, a national search would provide the city with a boost in confidence and trust in the mayor and manager, also needed. Should he decide to pursue the job, Interim Chief Isaac should be asked to prove himself against a pool of candidates from inside and outside the department. He says he’d welcome the chance. As he told WCPO's editorial board:

It’s an opportunity to compare the talent we have here with the talent across the country. I’m certain that our talent here can compare with any place from across the country.

‪And if an outside candidate is selected, the police force should recognize that it is not easy for an outsider to come in and take the reins. They should be prepared to work with an outside chief and ease that transition. ‬

We already know Cranley likes Isaac, as he’s suggested he would make a fine permanent chief.  That makes it all the more essential that a broad search be conducted. If Cranley and Black appointed their handpicked man without a national search, it would only further corrode the community’s trust.

In 2001, Cincinnati voters changed the city charter to allow City Hall to search outside the department for a police chief.   Before that, police leadership was selected internally through a scoring process. In that vote, we also permitted the city manager to fire the police chief. Previously, the chief enjoyed civil service protection.

Cranley and Black took full advantage of their power to fire. They should also take full advantage of their power to search beyond Cincinnati. The community’s confidence in City Hall is at stake.