Continuous Improvement in Policing

cmo_community-forum3_1217.jpg

In society, nothing remains stagnant: either you work to get better or things deteriorate.  And so it is with the Collaborative Agreement among the police and various civic organizations in Cincinnati that emerged in response to the riots in 2001.  It had been voluntarily extended for over a decade, and people were beginning to suspect decay.  Consequently, the city has embarked on a refresh.  As a part of this effort, they held three Community Forums, “designed to solicit invaluable feedback from Cincinnati residents, Cincinnati police officers, and various community stakeholders on the state of local community-police relations.”  The last of these forums took place on Thursday, 1/11.

3rd Forum CrowdUnlike the first such forum last September, this one was lightly attended: I think police and other officials attending outnumbered the civilians, and there were many empty tables.

3rd Forum QuestionerDuring the question period, one person attacked the panel for not getting the word out, in essence blaming the organizers for the poor attendance, especially from the population that is most impacted by the consequences of biased policing.  City Manager Black defended the organizers, citing a number of steps that they had taken, ending with “We can’t make them come.”

Though I had noticed the size of the crowd as soon as I entered the room, after a moment’s reflection, I was not surprised. It is much more exciting to rise up in anger over the shooting of Sam Debose than to sit and talk about procedures, accountability, data, problem solving, and recommendations to “develop metrics to evaluate mutual accountability…”.  It is all too abstract. Kim Neal, director of the Citizen Complaint Authority, told me that they even have trouble getting people who have registered complaints to return their calls.  If people are reluctant to engage in issues where their stake is personal, it is not surprising that they won’t bother with some city wide forum like this.

1st forum crowd 2To me, the first forum seemed to feature lots of like-minded people of various backgrounds getting together for Kumbaya, but there was no grit.  I had trouble imagining this forum having significant impact, no matter how “invaluable” they called the feedback they received.  Regardless, it is important to give ordinary citizens the opportunity to participate.

Saul Green

Saul Green

Saul Green, who was appointed by the court to monitor the collaborative agreement when it was put in place back in 2002, is overseeing the refresh.  He is critically examining current procedures, and my impression is that he is not going to put up with pointless activities that have no real impact.  The team is making recommendations for change. City Manager Black is accepting them all, and forming concrete plans to implement them.

The specifics of these recommendations and the implementation plans would have been too numerous for presentation in this meeting, and are in any case not finalized.  Some in attendance were clearly dissatisfied, but what they were asking for was a level of detail that I, for one, had neither the time nor the expertise to evaluate.   I left this part of the presentation with confidence in the qualifications and engagement of the leadership, and I am willing to trust them to bring about constructive changes.

Dan Hils

Dan Hils, FOP President

In my opinion, there is one major obstacle to a successful refresh: the reluctance of a certain segment of the police community to participate.  Initially, there were reports that the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) voted “to stop taking part in the process of reviewing and renewing the Collaborative Agreement”.   Apparently, the FOP later backed off of this stance, but Hils, the FOP president, still points out “a big difference between looking at things and signing off on things.”  The rank and file police officers can undermine the agreement, no matter how carefully crafted the procedures are.   Perhaps a citizen forum is not the place for these police to air their point of view, and, to be honest, I might not be very receptive to what they have to say.  However, somewhere in this process, their concerns need to be heard and acknowledged.

At the end of the forum, they talked about PIVOT, “Place based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories”.  This is an awful acronym, but an effective program.  It won the 2017 Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.  For me, this presentation had the kind of detail that meant something.  Instead of just talking about problem solving in the abstract, they presented the actual data, described the problems that it identified, and articulated specific steps taken to address the problems.  PIVOT E WestwoodThe highlight of the evening was the video documenting the problem and the community response in East Westwood and Westwood. These adjoining neighborhoods had narrowly defined locations where many crimes were being committed.  The response to the problem involved not only significant policing, but also collaboration, though the Neighborhood Enhancement Program, with other city departments and various community groups.  Unlike in some “broken windows policing” scenarios where citizens feel harassed and disrespected, here then citizens felt involved and empowered.  The result was that crime in the area was significantly reduced and life in the community improved.

In many parts of our country, policing mixes comfortably with the legacy of racial discrimination, harking back to a time keeping order meant, in part, keeping the coloreds in their place.  Far too often, the police will deny that racial bias is a problem in their department.  In the aftermath of the riots in 2001, Cincinnati confronted reality head on and found a constructive path forward, embodied in  the Collaborative Agreement. At the forum, I talked with a lieutenant with 25 years of experience who spoke with pride in the transformation that had occurred in the department since she first joined it.  However, pride in past accomplishments is never sufficient.  In Cincinnati, civic and religious organizations are working together with the police department and the city government to continue to improve.  The refresh of the Collaborative Agreement, with its focus on metrics and procedures, is only part of what is going on.  People are also developing innovative strategies like PIVOT and the Neighborhood Enhancement Program to confront the problems of a city in the 21st Century.  These strategies recognize that policing, no matter how innovative and well meaning, cannot provide the whole solution.  It is the whole community, working together, that can solve the problems we face.

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell is Fired

Blackwell facebook

Jeffrey Blackwell

I first heard about the firing of Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell at the delegates meeting of MARCC (Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati).  Among this group of faith based community activists, this news was greeted with cry of dismay.

Over the past year, I have posted several times about Chief Blackwell and the department: Constitutional PolicingCincinnati’s Ferguson Protest: a Personal View, and Cincinnati Deals with a Police Shooting.  I have the greatest respect for Blackwell’s vision for how policing should be done in this country. I had heard some grumblings about his self-promotion, but I was pleased that his ideas were getting more attention. He was often away, but I had assumed that a well run organization like the Cincinnati Police Department did not need baby sitting by its chief.

At a MARCC meeting (12/10/2015), Blackwell spoke of the need to replace that old policing model, “Big Me, Little You”, with one that valued and respected the rights of the citizens, and built up the relationship between the police and the community. What I did not know, could not know from my position on the distant outside, was that Blackwell did not apply these principles to his own behavior within the department.

PoliceSurvey

I have read over the Cincinnati Police Department Climate Assessment.  I always view such reports with a grain of salt, especially when the outside organization confirms the point of view of the person that hired them. The organization, Make It Plain Consulting, has a good reputation, having been awarded “Emerging Business of the Year” by The South Central Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council. I find no evidence of bias in the report. It states that morale is low. It sites three areas of concern:

  • Communications. ““the department lacks effective communications up and down the chain of command”
  • LEADERSHIP: “the dissention and mistrust among the Police Chief and Assistant Chiefs (Patrol Bureau and Investigations Bureau) is the primary reason for the breakdown of flow of information and the perception of lack of leadership.
  • TECHNOLOGY: “Technology and equipment is outdated and/or redundant.”

Though this last point cannot be addressed without appropriate budgetary support, the other two clearly belong on Chief Blackwell’s plate.

The memo from Harry Black, City Manager, where he announced to city council that he fired Jefffrey Blackwell “for cause”, paints an even darker picture:

Blackwell uses verbal abuse and insult to convey authority. Individuals have been threatened and berated, in the presence of subordinate officers, superior officers, and members of the public.

….

Equally disturbing, a culture of hostility and retaliation instituted by Mr. Blackwell has put the integrity of the police department at risk.

Black provides supporting documents written by current Assistant Police Chiefs and others.  Here is a sample:

From Captain Paul Broxterman:

Unfortunately, I believe the chief has little regard for the opinions and suggestions of his commanders. Instead, he relies on the counsel of his inner circle. The chief’s inner circle, which includes non-supervisors and civilians, is often allowed to circumvent the chain of command, leaving middle managers and command officers powerless. I believe morale among command officers is the lowest I have seen in my 27 years with the Department.

There is no doubt Chief Blackwell has excelled in community outreach. He is passionate in reaching out to the youth in our city and he strives to provide them with guidance and hope. Sadly, he has failed to do the same within our Department.

From Assistant Chief  David Bailey:

From the onset, Chief Blackwell essentially ignored recommendations from his command staff and instead set up an alternative advisory team who he considered as “loyal”.… The reward for the Lieutenants’ loyalty was unsupervised overtime and on call status city owned cars, which was the subject of recent investigative media reports.

When the Inspection Section attempted to conduct an overtime audit of the Quality of Life Team, Lt. Barb Young was told by the Police Chief they did not have his authority to conduct the audit and were told to cease auditing functions until told otherwise. Their Inspections Section office was immediately moved from the Spinney Field complex to the second floor of 310 Ezzard Charles Drive presumably for control or humiliation purposes. The unit was then later reassigned to report directly to Chief Blackwell.

Ironically, Chief Blackwell was able to opine on a national platform on how other cities should be conducting their affairs, when he was unable to communicate even a most basic operational plan or strategy to his own department.

Eliot Isaac and Harry Black

Eliot Isaac and Harry Black

from Eliot K. Isaac, now acting Police Chief

I have attempted to mediate the relationship between the Chief and Assistant Chief Bailey with little success. It has clearly deteriorated over the past two years and is sadly beyond repair.

There is plenty more, from Blackwell’s constant self promotion to his search for free tickets to sporting events.   He comes off as an arrogant ass.

Even Blackwell’s former supporters have turned. Scotty Johnson, past president of the Sentinels, an organization for black police officers, said in an email, “I have never witnessed such hostility and lack of respect for employees.”

In response to all of this, Blackwell has claimed “I’ve had the support of the White House, the attorney general, the national media…all of the national think tanks of policing, but I could never get the support of John Cranley or Harry Black, and because I’ve never had their support — ever — I was never able to command the department the way it should have been led.”

All this might be true, but the problems described in the report had nothing to do with his relationship with Mayor Cranley and City Manager Black.  The toxic work environment was his own creation.

I have concluded that the firing was indeed justified. I find myself in agreement with City Councilman Chris Seelbach:

I have supported Chief Blackwell and his approach to community policing from day one.

That being said, the statements outlined in the City Manager’s memo by respected members of our police department are concerning and not reflective of the many positive stories from officers and community members I have heard from.

What is most clear is that this is a sad day for the City of Cincinnati.