News: Streicher Goes Ballistic

Police Chief apologizes to Bates family, then turns on The Enquirer

Sep 20, 2006 at 2:06 pm
CityBeat Archive

If someone went to Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher's office and started berating him without warning — as Streicher did in a newsroom last week — an arrest would probably follow.

In the latest of a long list of angry outbursts, Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. recently paid a surprise visit to The Cincinnati Enquirer's newsroom and loudly voiced his objections to its recent coverage of him.

Streicher's tirade came after he was strongly advised by unnamed officials to go to the home of Cincinnati School Board Member Melanie Bates and apologize to her and her family.

Bates' husband, Philip, was shot and killed Aug. 27 while sitting on the front porch of their North Avondale home by an unidentified gunman. A few days later, at a press conference called by the mayor to address crime issues, Streicher spent most of the time asserting that Cincinnati is a safe city and other police chiefs nationwide "laugh" when residents here complain about crime (see "Streicher Says We're Safe," issue of Sept. 13).

His remarks, reported by news media, prompted dozens of residents to speak at the next day's city council meeting about his characterization.

Streicher is notorious for his temper among elected officials, city workers and reporters, although it's perhaps not widely known by the public. Typically, he doesn't react well to criticism and routinely complains that the media unfairly depicts his department.

After The Enquirer printed two prominent articles Sept. 7 and 8 repeating Streicher's assertion that Cincinnati is among the safest cities in the nation and reporting on the reactions his comments elicited from crime victims, he reached his breaking point.

Without an appointment, Streicher appeared Sept. 8 at the security guard's desk in the lobby of The Enquirer's Elm Street offices downtown and demanded an immediate meeting with editors, according to multiple sources. Once granted entry into the newsroom, he angrily vented his frustration to reporters and editors about their allegedly biased coverage.

Never mind that virtually every media outlet in town had a similar take on Streicher's comments during a Sept. 5 press conference and that numerous radio and TV reporters recorded his exact remarks.

A telephone call to Enquirer Managing Editor Hollis Towns seeking comment about the incident wasn't returned.

Only the latest tantrum
This isn't the first time Streicher has reached his boiling point since becoming chief in 1999.

Last year a federal judge ruled that the Police Department was in material breach of the Collaborative Agreement, the settlement of a racial profiling lawsuit signed in 2002 that calls for dozens of police reforms. The ruling came after Streicher blocked access to a court-appointed monitoring team, questioned the credentials of the former police investigators on the team and kicked them out of police headquarters.

In 2004, during the run-up to the presidential election, then-Mayor Charlie Luken chastised Streicher for sending a terrorism alert to thousands of businesses and schools without informing the mayor or the city manager. No explanation for the alert was ever provided.

In 2003, 19 men of Middle Eastern descent were indicted for money laundering, receiving stolen property and other charges for selling stolen goods at convenience stores. At the time, Streicher said the men might have been sending some of their criminal proceeds to the Middle East to support terrorism, a charge that defense attorneys attacked as racist and not based on any facts.

The case was handled by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Crush, who pointedly noted in his remarks, "This case is not about terrorism." The chief now refuses to talk to reporters who wrote about Crush's comments.

In 2001, Streicher temporarily withdrew all Cincinnati police officers from an FBI Violent Crimes Task Force after the FBI took over the investigation into why six SWAT team members and an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper fired bean bag ammunition at a reportedly peaceful crowd during Timothy Thomas' funeral (see "Firing on Children," issue of April 19, 2001). Five months later, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Streicher allowed the officers to return.

The problem isn't limited to Streicher. In April, the chief apologized to an Over-the-Rhine businessman who helped form a Citizens on Patrol unit there for an outburst made by Streicher's second-in-command, Lt. Col. Richard Janke. Janke yelled at the businessman and kicked him off the patrol after the man publicly welcomed news that the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office would begin patrolling the neighborhood, a move initially opposed by Streicher and police supervisors.

Bronson still a fan
Streicher's recent impromptu visit to The Enquirer prompted Peter Bronson, the newspaper's arch-conservative columnist, to write a Sept. 12 column on the Op-Ed pages entitled, "Streicher sets the record straight," on the Web edition. The headline, of course, raises the questions of exactly what was Streicher setting straight and who didn't get it straight the first time.

In the column, Bronson wrote, "Accusing Streicher of not caring about crime is like saying President Bush doesn't care about terrorism or Sheriff Si Leis doesn't care about a new jail." A review of comments printed by local newspapers and uttered by irritated residents at a city council meeting, however, doesn't reveal anyone accusing Streicher of not caring — just being oblivious to the problem's extent or being insensitive to victims.

More tellingly, Bronson also wrote about the chief, "His timing was terrible. Saying Cincinnati is safe just before council heard from the widow and children of homicide victim Phil Bates was one of those political Freudian slips that confirm our worst fears that our leaders just don't get it."

Rest assured, Bronson informed readers, Streicher gets it. The fault lies not with the chief, the scribe added, but with virtually everyone else from Mayor Mark Mallory and city council to an unnamed horde "who have stubbornly denied for five years that Cincinnati has a crime problem."

A quick review of news accounts doesn't reveal anyone making that claim, just some people questioning whether police are fully engaged in their jobs after a steep decline in arrests in 2001 and 2002 and whether police supervisors were using the most effective approaches to fighting crime. But what's a little nuance between friends?

Naturally, Bronson didn't mention the chief's visit or heated outbursts in his column.

In his many years as a columnist, Bronson has rarely questioned any police action and remained a staunch defender of Streicher and his department regardless of the specific facts about a situation. Bronson recently wrote the book Behind The Lines: The Untold Story of the Cincinnati Riots.

Streicher is well known among print reporters for his refusal to take calls from or make appointments with most reporters. One wonders if a reporter showed up at Streicher's office unannounced and angrily asked questions, if that person would be received as professionally as The Enquirer did the chief or if they instead would be arrested. ©