Cincinnati fires police chief over policing strategies, leadership

Cincinnati has fired its police chief, Jeffrey Blackwell, citing criticism that Blackwell's leadership style created a work environment of hostility and retaliation.

John Minchillo/AP/File
Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell speaks to media at Xavier University in Cincinnati, while attending a memorial for 48-year-old police officer Sonny Kim, a 27-year veteran of the department, on June 25, 2015. On Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, City Manager Harry Black announced Blackwell's firing in a memo to Cincinnati's mayor and city council, writing Blackwell has not provided the necessary leadership to ensure a "cohesive operating environment" within the department.

The police chief of Ohio's third-largest city was fired Wednesday amid mounting criticism over his policing strategies and leadership, which the city manager said contributed to a toxic work environment.

City Manager Harry Black announced the firing of Chief Jeffrey Blackwell in a memo to the mayor and City Council, saying Blackwell hadn't provided the necessary leadership to ensure a "cohesive operating environment" within the department.

Blackwell had come under increasing criticism in recent months in the city of nearly 300,000 residents along the Ohio River near Kentucky. The Fraternal Order of Police had scheduled a special meeting for Sept. 14 where a no-confidence vote was expected to be taken by union members, and a city councilman had said last week that it was time for Blackwell to step aside.

Black said in the memo that police morale is at an unprecedented low, and the sentiment throughout the department is that Blackwell's leadership style created a work environment of hostility and retaliation.

"At a time in which our city, like so many across the country, is facing a dangerous spike in violence, we simply cannot afford such ineffective leadership," Black wrote.

The violence this summer has included the death of veteran Cincinnati police officer Sonny Kim, who died June 19 after responding to a 911 call made by a gunman in an apparent attempt at suicide by cop.

Blackwell stopped by a City Council meeting after his firing but didn't address the Council. Outside the meeting, he blamed a lack of support from the city administration.

"I love the people of Cincinnati," Blackwell told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "I could never get the support of (Mayor) John Cranley and Harry Black."

Messages left Wednesday for local FOP President Kathy Harrell weren't immediately returned.

Black's memo also cited a lack of sufficient and proper communication and a disregard for the chain of command as having a negative impact on the department.

The city manager said that he had repeatedly attempted to direct and assist Blackwell in overcoming shortcomings, but said the chief had failed to take his direction.

Cranley said in an emailed statement Wednesday that the firing of Blackwell was based on an independent assessment of conditions within the police department. He said the findings of a report conducted by a consulting firm "revealed an untenable situation and a change had to be made."

City officials said Assistant Chief Eliot Isaac has been appointed interim police chief.

Blackwell was hired in September 2013 by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. to head the department of more than 1,100 employees. He had previously served as deputy chief in the Columbus Police Department.

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