With Cincinnati’s Fraternal Order of Police set to cast a vote of no confidence regarding Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell next week, a debate has sprung up about the chief’s future and his performance. Supporters say Blackwell has done a great job in his two years as chief and that the current controversy around him is political. But others say low morale and communication problems are taking their toll on officers.
Union President Kathy Harrell is convening a Sept. 14 meeting to address those and other concerns from officers. Though Harrell says she believes officers will cast the no confidence vote, that’s not set in stone.
Blackwell called a news conference Sept. 2 to address the pending FOP meeting, saying he felt sure he would remain chief and highlighting the efforts he has made to build community engagement and fight crime. He also stressed that staffing for the department is at a six-year high.
“I’m tired as well, but we have a job to do for the citizens of this great city,” he said during the late-evening news conference. “I understand that the cops here are tired, and we’re trying to work through some of those issues with staffing.”
The FOP hasn’t had a meeting like the one planned for next week in a decade, and no-confidence votes from the organization are rare. Cincinnati’s black police union, the Sentinels, held a no-confidence vote for then-chief James Craig in 2013, however. In June, the Sentinels unanimously voted their support for Blackwell.
Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black is set to release a climate report on the department Sept. 11 and will be meeting with Blackwell and the Sentinels in the days leading up to that report’s release. Mayor John Cranley has praised Blackwell’s handling of a difficult summer that saw the shooting of CPD officer Sonny Kim, a spike in gun violence and other hardships. But Cranley also says reported communication problems and morale issues are concerning.
Some believe Cranley,wants to force the chief out. While running for mayor, Cranley asked then-City Manager Milton Dohoney to wait until after the election to hire a permanent chief. Cranley has said he’s not pushing the chief out.
“That’s ridiculous,” Cranley told WLWT this week at a Labor Day event. “We’re going to do what’s right for the police department and what’s right for the city.”
The controversy comes as Cincinnati experiences something of a spike in gun violence, which is up 30 percent from last year. Some other crimes are also up slightly — as a whole, violent crime has risen 3 percent since this time last year — but that follows an abnormally quiet year last year, and overall crime rates line up with the past few years in the city. Other cities have also seen upticks in crime, some much more drastic than Cincinnati.
Earlier in the summer, questions swirled around whether Blackwell was departing the force. City documents outlining his exit were detailed in media reports, though they were never signed and the chief stayed on.
Some Cincinnait City Council members continue to stick by the chief. Young’s fellow Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld have all made statements supporting Blackwell. He’s gotten a show of support outside City Hall, too — a Facebook group called “We’ve Got Blackwell’s Back” popped up recently, garnering more than 1,000 followers.