Cincinnati's police chief didn't spend the $2.7 million this year that city council told him to use for increased walking patrols, but he did spend money to renovate his personal office at police headquarters.
Some of the other items that Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. spent unused personnel funds on this year include landscaping maintenance at various police facilities, repairs to a municipal parking garage and an extra $25,000 in postage.
The revelations about how money that was supposed to go toward personnel costs was actually used has outraged some city council members and neighborhood groups and is prompting council to tighten its oversight over police spending.
Exactly how much was spent to renovate the chief's office or, for that matter, exactly how many hours of walking patrols were conducted by Cincinnati Police this year are unclear.
CityBeat submitted a public records request Dec. 11 to the city's budget director, seeking an itemized list of renovations at police headquarters. The budget director referred the request to the city's spokeswoman, who in turn referred it to the police department, who in turn referred it to Facility Management. As of Dec. 17 CityBeat still doesn't have the itemized list.
Similarly, CityBeat submitted a request Dec. 6 to the police department seeking records detailing how many hours of walking patrols were done so far in 2007. To date, the department has not provided any documents.
In a recent appearance before council, Streicher said he was able to accomplish the same amount of walking, bicycle and horse patrols in neighborhoods without using most of the $2.7 million in overtime that council had allocated for that purpose.
In the chief's inimitable style, this was done without telling council beforehand about the change.
What Streicher sidestepped in his council appearance was the $625,000 spent on non-budgeted items. They included $125,000 for renovations to the second floor of police headquarters, where the chief's office is located, and $300,000 for various contractual services such as landscaping at police facilities. Other expenses included $50,000 in elevator repairs at police headquarters, $50,000 for maintenance of the municipal garage, $25,000 in postage costs and $75,000 in reimbursements to the city's law department.
Streicher initially said he was able to do some of the patrols without using overtime money and that he wanted to return the funds to help with the city's deficit and provide carryover cash for 2008.
Later still, Streicher said he didn't think walking patrols were an effective crime-fighting tool — despite city council's directive to use them — and that there were better methods to accomplish the same goals.
Called before council last week to explain the situation, Streicher told officials he would follow whatever directives officials gave him and didn't mean to be insubordinate. Less than 24 hours later, though, he told WLW's (700 AM) Bill Cunningham that he would do whatever he felt was "right" in the future. Two days after that, the chief unleashed an angry tirade on a WKRC (550 AM) talk show.
"This notion that, if you throw more cops at something, that the crime is going to go away — are you kidding me?" Streicher told host Brian Thomas. "What about the horrible landlords out there? What about the irresponsible parents out there. ... It's not the cops' job to baby-sit children."
Some council members are disturbed by the chief's actions.
"Going forward, I think we need to determine if there are any other consequences needed," says Councilman Chris Bortz. "Clearly, this points out a major communication problem that needs to be resolved. We're not out of the woods yet. ... There is still a disconnect between the council and the administration."
'If we had known'
Streicher's decisions have consequences in neighborhoods. Members of the Madisonville Community Council have been requesting a walking patrol in its business district for years but were told by police supervisors that they didn't have enough officers to conduct them on a regular basis. When neighborhood leaders learned that Streicher proposed returning about $1 million in unused funds allocated for walking patrols, they were incensed.
"We're more than just a little surprised to hear of (the surplus) as we have been requesting a (walking) patrol for our business district for over three years now," Madisonville business owner Bob Igoe recently wrote city council. "We've spent approximately $30,000 in Invest in Neighborhood funds over this same period to supplement police presence in our district. While many communities have used these funds for streetscapes and marketing projects, we've had to commit ours to making our business district clean and safe. So you can imagine our surprise when we read that there were indeed unspent funds that could have given our neighborhood the added resources we need."
Madisonville residents point to a June 2006 e-mail from Police Lt. Col. Stephen Gregoire, responding to one of their many requests. Gregoire's response stated, "Dismounted patrol will be executed in Madisonville when sufficient manpower exists. However, there are not enough personnel to assign to this type patrol on a continuous basis."
In 2002 Madisonville was granted a "Weed & Seed" grant through the U.S. Justice Department to help fight crime, which was used to pay for police overtime. During the past year neighborhood leaders provided approximately $60,000 for police overtime in Madisonville, as well as giving them money to travel to federal Weed & Seed conferences and buy equipment for the police department.
The Madisonville Community Council also secured a grant to help pay for Hamilton County Sheriff's Office patrols to help combat the crime in Madisonville.
"The crime in Madisonville is certainly not the same as in some neighborhoods, and for that we are grateful. However, we have more than our fair share," Kathy Garrison, Madisonville's Weed & Seed director, wrote to city council. "The Citizens on Patrol, our probation officers and others along with the police are making the difference. We just want the Cincinnati Police to work with us better. I ask that you care about our community and help us to accomplish our goals. Maybe we could have requested more walking patrols or more bike patrols to help us with our crime efforts if we had known there was 'unspent money' to be had."