New chief: 'We're not going to lose ground'

Posted at 5:42 PM, Sep 16, 2015

Out of the controversy surrounding the firing of former Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, Eliot Isaac, a 26-year veteran of the police force, was named interim chief. He spoke Wednesday to the WCPO editorial board about his priorities, his background, police-community relations, gun violence and police morale. Here are excerpts from that interview:

His first priorities

One, it’s very important is that we move forward with some of the efforts that we were already doing. We’ve had a spike in violent crime over the summer. We want to continue to work to get our arms around that.

Secondly, I want to make sure we have a stable, healthy police department. There were several concerns that came out through the climate assessment addressing officer morale, and so we want to focus on that.

Also, we want to make sure we continue to deepen and strengthen our community partnerships. We’re not going to lose ground; we’re going to continue to move forward.

We want to strengthen our CIRV (Community Initiative to Reduce Violence) initiative. We’ll be focusing on that. We want to make sure the districts are adequately staffed. One of the things were doing is to look at areas where we might be able to send officers back to uniformed patrol.

On efforts to reduce gun violence

We’re going to be starting some efforts here in the next few weeks that I think are going to help curb some of the violence. We have some groups and some gangs that are operating that we need to focus our attention on. I think that’s where we're seeing our spike come from. There are groups that are operating that need to be dismantled, and we’re going to focus on them.

There are people who know where these guns are coming from. We need to develop those relationships so that we can get that information and act on it. Technology plays a key piece in that as well -- being able to track some of these guns and tell where they’re coming from.

His strengths as a police insider

I know the folks that are here, I understand the dynamics of our city. I understand the evolution that our department has gone through. Through leadership change, through civil unrest, through our historic collaborative agreement -- I saw what we were like prior to that and I see how we’ve evolved.

Will he apply for the permanent chief's post?

I’m going to explore how it goes. In my role prior to being the interim chief, I was the executive assistant chief. Part of my responsibility was to be the acting chief in the event the chief was not here or wasn’t available. But my responsibility right now is to make sure the department moves forward.

Should we continue to look outside the community for a chief?

The citizens of Cincinnati have spoken when they voted for Issue 5 (allowing the city manager to hire an external police chief). I personally was a supporter of it. I think that change can be good. It doesn’t preclude them from selecting anyone from the inside. It’s an opportunity to compare the talent we have here with the talent across the country. I think the Cincinnati Police Department has done a tremendous job when it comes to developing police executives. I’m certain that our talent here can compare with anyplace from across the country.

What can you get accomplished as interim chief?

My direction has been clear. The manager has told me to embrace this. His exact words were to 'lean in' to the position. We don’t do anybody any good by remaining stagnant. There definitely needs to be some time for healing, but when you look back, you’re going to see a much more balanced police department. We need to make sure our staffing is balanced.

What's the No. 1 threat in the community?

Violent crime. If we don’t get our arms around violent crime, everything else we do is kind of redundant.

Do we need more black police leaders?

One of the core values of our agency is diversity. A community likes to see a department that is reflective of that community. That’s absolutely something we need to look at and focus on. There may be some opportunity here in the very near future to bring a lot more diversity into the upper ranks of the department.

His experience in community policing

I had the opportunity back in the early '90s to be on the front end of community policing efforts. When the department was exploring community policing, I was one of the officers selected to work in the West End. At that time, community policing was very new to Cincinnati. Community relations was almost nonexistent. The police department barely communicated with the community, and it showed by the relationship that we had. So my roots are in the origins of community policing in this city. I’ve been a part of it as its evolved. I’m committed to it.


Interim Chief Eliot Isaac, far left, meets with the WCPO editorial board, including David Holthaus, center, Mike Canan, Mona Morrow and Libby Cunningham.