Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Police, fire chief selection questioned

Some council members no longer trust system

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Some Cincinnati City Council members are calling for a change in how the police and fire chiefs are hired. One member called for firing the city safety director.

        Reacting to the latest fatal police shooting of an African-American man — the 15th since 1995 — several City Council members said Monday they no longer trust a selection system that limits potential chiefs to assistant chiefs. They said the city manager should be allowed to hire anyone from anywhere in the country.

        “When (police) powers are used in a way that consistently raises great concern among the citizens, it is important for this council to respond,” Councilwoman Minette Cooper said. “I believe giving the city manager the authority to pick his chiefs will renew many of our citizens' trust in the police division.”

        The move, which would require voter approval, sparked instant reaction from the police chief and police union president, who said that if changes are enacted the departments will be run by political whimsy.

        “The police chief can't make the decisions necessary to run the department under that system,” Police Chief Tom Streicher said. “It needs to be free of influence, clean and clear of political ramifications.”

        Mayor Charlie Luken and Councilman John Cranley said it was a matter of restoring accountability.

        “This to me is an idea that has the potential to restore confidence in the department,” Mr. Luken said.

        Council members said their support for changing the selection system was not a reflection on the performance of Chief Streicher.

        The way it works now, the police and fire chiefs are promoted based on test scores. Only assistant chiefs can take the test.

        Those with the three highest scores are interviewed by the city manager, who selects one for the job. A black assistant chief, Ronald Twitty, took the exam the last time but was not one of the top three.

        Although the chiefs can be fired, they have the same civil service rights as any other police officer, meaning they can fight termination through arbitration.

        Outside arbitrators have reinstated every officer fired in the past five years. Council members say this is one example that has created “an atmosphere of autonomy within the police division.”

        Since 1912, each person to serve as chief of police has been from the west side of Cincinnati.

        Changing the system requires a charter amendment that would go to the voters in November. That means at least six council members have to approve it.

        A similar amendment in 1997 championed by the NAACP and Baptist Ministers Conference of Greater Cincinnati and Vicinity was defeated 54 percent to 46 percent.

        Councilman Pat DeWine said Monday that the changes didn't go far enough. “If they want to make the police chief accountable, then let the "strong' mayor do the hiring and firing,” he said. “If they want to hold people accountable, they ought to hold them accountable, not make scapegoats out of them.”

        Police union President Keith Fangman said that a politically appointed chief invites corruption. “The voters are smart enough to know that a politically appointed chief is nothing more than a political hack for the manager or strong mayor,” he said.

        Councilwoman Alicia Reece asked City Manager John Shirey to remove Public Safety Director Kent Ryan from office. “It is your task to remove our safety director and find one with the temperament and diversity and sensitivity our city requires,” she wrote in a letter.

        Mr. Ryan would not comment. Mr. Shirey said dismissing the safety director “was not an answer.”


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