Change at the Top

I'm not sure how to properly evaluate Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher's overall performance as administrator and leader of a large bureaucracy. His boss, the city manager, is the best judg

I'm not sure how to properly evaluate Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher's overall performance as administrator and leader of a large bureaucracy. His boss, the city manager, is the best judge of that.

But I am sure that, no matter what objective or subjective standard is used, three unarmed citizens dead at the hands of Cincinnati Police in the past three years reflects poorly on Streicher. Such deaths demonstrate a pattern and a culture within the department, and as the top guy Streicher is responsible for setting and feeding that culture.

After Roger Owensby Jr.'s death in November 2000 and Timothy Thomas' death in April 2001, several things changed in the Cincinnati Police Department — procedures, policies, paperwork, oversight and a general openness to work closer with citizens. With Nathaniel Jones' death last week, more changes likely are to come, starting with possible new equipment.

But two things stubbornly stay the same: the department culture that enables these citizen confrontations and the person in charge of that culture. There's no excuse — and no good reason — for maintaining the defective status quo.

Streicher must be replaced as police chief, if only because everything else has been tried.

When you eliminate all other possible reasons for why unarmed citizens die in encounters with Cincinnati Police, only a few possibilities remain.

The police — specifically their union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) — would have you believe the victims are to blame.

Post-incident FOP press conferences usually offer a litany of reasons the victim was responsible for his own fate: He ran, he stayed and fought, he had a criminal record, he was high on something, he was overweight, he resisted arrest. And when FOP Vice President Keith Fangman stands at the podium and says, as he did Dec. 5, that even after such incidents officers aren't going to back down, you believe him.

The message I hear from Fangman is this: If you run from cops, death is justified. The same's true if you fight cops, if you have a criminal record, if you're high, if you're overweight, if you resist arrest. It can get ugly and we can't help that, Fangman said.

The sadly ironic thing is that, whenever Fangman speaks at these FOP press conferences, grim photos of Cincinnati cops killed in the line of duty loom over all in attendance. The police force rightly has a "no tolerance" approach to officer deaths — they're simply unacceptable.

There is no possible good reason for citizens to kill a police officer, and every sane person supports that position. Does anyone remember which murdered officer, Jeter or Pope, was black and which was white? Did anyone have a press conference after their deaths and try to say that something's out of whack because 50 percent of the dead officers were black but only about 25 percent of the department was black?

Such behavior was and is unacceptable. Such deaths are unacceptable.

Yet it's clear to many people that the FOP doesn't regard civilian deaths as unacceptable. They're simply the cost of doing business.

In the absence of any other voice, that opinion becomes the official Cincinnati Police position in the public's mind. Why hasn't Streicher repudiated such garbage? Why hasn't he informed the citizens of Cincinnati that the death of any unarmed civilian at the hands of his officers is unacceptable?

When neither the public nor the police rank and file hear the chief say that citizens' lives are as valuable as officers', negative attitudes are confirmed and hardened.

Not to trivialize these deaths, but it's like the sports world. The Bengals had a hardened culture of losing until they changed coaches. With primarily the same roster of players from last year's 2-14 team, Marvin Lewis has willed the Bengals toward the playoffs this year.

The first thing he did was to convince his team that losing was unacceptable. Before Lewis, losing was part of the deal as a Bengal. Not anymore.

When company culture begins to excuse losing, football teams change coaches. Fortune 500 corporations fire CEOs. Newspapers bring in new publishers.

The culture of the Cincinnati Police Department needs turned around. Chief Streicher — who, as revealed in Leslie Blade's cover story, keeps files on his officers in order to confirm loyalty — must be replaced.

Under his current contract, the chief can be fired for only narrow reasons of cause and can appeal any dismissal. Knowing the city's dismal record of having firings of even horrible officers upheld, Streicher likely would get his job back if fired.

So any replacement would have to be voluntary. Perhaps Carl Lindner (Reds), Mike Brown (Bengals), A.G. Lafley (Procter & Gamble), Margaret Buchanan (Cincinnati Enquirer), Jack Cassidy (Cincinnati Bell) and even Arnold Schwarzenegger (California) could persuade Streicher of the value of change at the top.

In August 2001, CityBeat called for Streicher's resignation in our "Cincinnati MUST" plan for healing the city after Thomas' death and the subsequent riots. Not much has changed since then, and that's the problem.