Friday, March 05, 1999

West side is Cincinnati's home of chiefs

A tradition of order and service

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The naming of Thomas Streicher Jr. as Cincinnati's new chief of police extends an 87-year streak for proud west-siders.

        Since 1912, each man to serve as chief of police in Cincinnati has called the west side home. Five of the nine grew up there. The other four moved there and made chief with west-side addresses on their resumes.

        Ever since William Howard Taft was president, whenever Cincinnati's chief of police headed home, he drove the winding roads that climb into the city's western hills, to that part of town where people place a high value on orderly lives and family ties.

        The tradition continues with Thomas Streicher. Cincinnati's new chief is a west-sider, raised in Price Hill and educated at Elder High School, class of 1971.

        Chief Streicher is taking over for Michael Snowden, a graduate of Elder's arch-rival, Western Hills High School. Chief Snowden took over from an Elder grad, Lawrence Whalen, who took over from a West Hi grad, Myron Leistler.

        All these men, and those others who came before them beginning with William Copelan in 1912, reflect a part of town where the climate seems right for nurturing chiefs. The west side loves order, honors tradition and thrives on civic pride. These are values highly prized in police chiefs, as they must instill them in their officers.

        As the chiefs who came before him, Thomas Streicher will, by his background and training, no doubt model the sense of order he learned on the west side. And that will benefit both

        the men and women who serve under him and us citizens who are served by Chief Streicher's police force. For all the jokes, even the recent “passport” flap from Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus, west-side values are part of the foundation of the quality of life we enjoy here in Cincinnati.

        The west side is my part of town. And, to tell you the truth, I feel kind of uneasy writing about it. Someone might think I'm making too much noise about it. Where I come from, you don't pat yourself or your neighborhood on the back. You just do your job, keep quiet and go home — often to the same block or just a few streets away from where your family has lived for generations.

        West-siders are an independent bunch. If someone notices you or the work you do or your neighborhood, fine. If no one notices, well, that's fine, too.

        Now, with Thomas Streicher's selection as the new chief, I'll risk a bit of publicity for the old neighborhood. Attention must be paid to the west side, Cincinnati's home of chiefs.

        The west side's sense of order, a sense that guides Cincinnati's police chiefs, springs from the dominating influence of the area's German founders.

        But you don't need German blood in your veins to grasp the idea that to get along on the west side, you learn early on there's a place for everything and everything should be in its place. That means putting your toys away, keeping your yard neat, befriending your neighbors and respecting authority.

        “We grew up doing what our moms told us to do,” said Tom Otten, Elder's principal. “They taught us to do what was right. And we're still following their orders as adults.”

        Following orders and doing what's right are critical attributes for police work. And that love of order goes beyond just obeying the law. It ex tends to how you do a job and the respect you have for the where place you work.

        Cops from the west side of town have a strong work ethic. Myron Leistler noticed that during his years as chief from 1976 to 1985. To him, a west-side officer “doesn't know how to give up.”

        Hearing that description tickled Michael Snowden.

        “That,” he said, laughing, “is just us west-siders being bull-headed.”

        There is a certain degree of stubbornness on the west side. Oh, all right, I'll admit it: There is a lot of stubbornness on the west side. Since we don't move around a lot, we stand our ground, literally and figuratively.

        When families stay in one place for generations, traditions take root. Jobs run in families and across neighborhoods. Chief Streicher's dad was a cop. Michael Snowden's grandfather served on the force, as did the father of his best friend.

        On the west side, kids are used to seeing police officers in their midst. They see them, not just as a man or woman in a uniform delivering bad news, chasing bad guys, etc., but as people, family, friends, neighbors.

        Police work is seen as an honorable profession, a great career choice. This could explain why, during some years when Chief Snowden was in charge, 75 percent of the applications for openings on the force came from west-siders.

        That figure doesn't surprise me. Firmly rooted west-side families have a tremendous sense of civic pride. Proud of their Cincinnati heritage, they see police work as a chance to serve their city.

        Hard-working, west-side cops tend to go far in the force. Some earn the right to wear the chief's gold badge.

        I see this long line of police chiefs as the west side's gift to the city, a gift generations in the making.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.