Friday, October 08, 1999

Norwood mayor, police battle

Residents get earful in letters

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NORWOOD — A letter signed by Mayor Joe Hochbein calling the community a “police state” has rankled the city's 46-member police division and created a rift between the city's officers and the administration.

        The letter was left on every city doorstep on Saturday and received in the mail at every Norwood address on Monday, said Detective Tom Fallon, chairman of the police division's wage and benefits committee — the department's negotiating arm with the city.

        “These accusations (contained in the letter) are appalling and slanderous. ... We are compelled to respond to them,” he said. Police have prepared a written response to be distributed door-to-door this weekend.

        Angering the officers are two points in the letter.

        Mr. Hochbein refers to the department as having an “old boy network” and contends that “changes are required to transform the (department) into a community oriented police force that is more effective and responsive to the needs our citizens.”

        Second, police dispute the mayor's contention that the division mishandled an investigation into a city employee's charge that a police officer used excessive force in making an arrest on Harper Avenue in May.

        “The mayor started off his letter referring to us as "the old boy network.' We feel that is a total negative stereotype that is not true considering our long-standing history of service to the citizens of Norwood. We feel this letter is politically motivated in an attempt to intimidate us” into showing partial treatment to friends or acquaintences of the mayor, Detective Fallon said.

        Mr. Hochbein countered that shoddy police work led him to “concerns about problems in our police department (and) that at the highest level of the Norwood Police Department there has been an old boy network that must be eliminated.” The mayor refered to an internal investiga tion of the alleged excessive force incident, and the subsequent arrest of a city employee who reported it to the mayor and others.

        The initial investigation into excessive force was completed under retired Police Capt. Tom Williams — then the acting police chief. Mr. Williams, who the mayor said he replaced in the acting chief's position because of the bungled investigation, is Mr. Hochbein's mayoral opponent in next month's election.

        Sheriff Simon L. Leis, whose office reviewed the investigation, concluded that it was “far from complete” with “gaping” holes and questionable credibility.'

        However, Detective Fallon noted a second internal investigation ordered by current Acting Police Chief John Murphy resulted in findings that the excessive force charge was unfounded. Mr. Hochbein said he has forwarded the second report to City Law Director Timothy A. Garry Jr. and it, too, may be reviewed by the sheriff.

        Detective Fallon said police do not endorse mayoral or other candidates and have no political agenda.

        “We just want the public to know this (letter) hurts. Every one of us is upset. The whole basis of law enforcement is honesty and integrity. That is what we vow to do. I wish I knew why he did this. I think we work hard to serve the citizens.”

        Mr. Hochbein said he was not saying the entire police department is part of a “good old boy network. ... We have some police officers dedicated to quality and committed to community oriented policing in our city.”

        Asked whether a Hamilton County sheriff's investigation involving the mayor also was a concern, Detective Fallon declined comment.

        The investigation involves the propriety of using city-paid public works employees at the Norwood Car Show. The probe also involves a $150 check from the show to the Victory 2000 account, the Norwood Republican Party's November election campaign.


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