Here’s another reason why alternative media matters.
If Cincinnati residents depend solely on mainstream media for their news, they won't get the full story about how the police department actually spent some of the money earmarked for walking patrols or Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr.'s defiance of city council policy. They also won’t learn how several current and former officers have spoken out against Streicher for damaging morale in the department.
Before Laure Quinlivan left WCPO-TV's I-Team last month, she had taped interviews with several current and former Cincinnati Police officers who talked about how the attitudes and favoritism on the part of Streicher and his inner circle had damaged department morale.
The interviews were taped in the Northside home of Greg Harris, a Democrat who was running for Cincinnati City Council at the time. The officers contacted Harris after he had made a campaign issue out of the Linder Report, a city-commissioned study of the police department that suggested numerous changes to improve efficiency but was generally ignored by council.
Conducted by nationally renowned police expert John Linder, the study was ordered by then-Mayor Charlie Luken in summer 2005 and completed the following December. After much badgering by CityBeat, The Enquirer and others, it finally was released publicly in June 2006.
Among its findings, the study stated the police department is “overwhelmed and defensive,” while its operating culture was described as a “systematically defensive posture hamstringing operations and affecting all basic systems.”
Perhaps more important, it stated that rank-and-file officers felt ignored and treated unfairly by department leadership. It found that there was major mistrust of supervisors by officers, with only 28.1 percent believing that discipline within the department was fair and uniform and that most police officers — 64 percent — said their supervisors are more concerned with being obeyed than understood.
Quinlivan interviewed the officers and promised to electronically obscure their faces and voices on-camera out of fear of retaliation by Streicher. The I-Team report was set to air on Sunday, Nov. 3, because Quinlivan wanted it broadcast during a ratings sweeps month and before the council election. In an Aug. 31 e-mail to Harris before the interviews, Quinlivan wrote, “Please let the police officers know that if we’re going to do a story, it must be exclusive with the I-Team. If we can agree to that, then we can give it at least 5 minutes of air time and lots of promotion.”
After Quinlivan learned she was being fired by WCPO as part of budget cuts, however, the plans changed. Quinlivan didn’t want to air such a controversial report against the chief because she was uncomfortable about not having WCPO’s protection after she left the station.
Meanwhile, Enquirer readers aren’t getting the full story about the current controversy over how Streicher spent part of the overtime money allocated for walking patrols.
In an appearance before council’s Finance Committee Monday, 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 specifically allocated for that purpose. In the chief’s inimitable style, this was done without telling council about the change.
Some council members — notably Democrat John Cranley and Republican Leslie Ghiz — have expressed skepticism that the same amount of targeted patrols was done. For his part, Streicher told council that he didn’t believe walking patrols were an effective crime fighting tool and that the $2 million he was returning from his budget to help ward off a deficit didn’t all come from the amount set aside for overtime; it also came from other “personnel savings.”
But what Streicher side-stepped 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.
A city budget planner last week initially told council that this money came from the cash allocated for overtime. After Streicher faced a council backlash, though, he wrote in a Dec. 6 memo to the city manager that money came from the “personnel savings,” not the overtime money. The bottom line: The money wasn’t spent as authorized by city council.
These readers won’t learn about those expenditures in the Enquirer’s article today about the controversy. The issue of CityBeat that hits newsstands Wednesday looks at some of the expenses, along with more background on this developing story.
Also not mentioned in The Enquirer was a vote taken by the Finance Committee Monday to spend $100,000 on an International Police Executive Symposium that Streicher wants the city to host next May.
The committee deadlocked 3-3 on recommending the expense be approved by the full council. Opposed were Cranley, Ghiz and Chris Bortz. Supporting the expense was Jeff Berding, Roxanne Qualls and Cecil Thomas. Abstaining were Laketa Cole and David Crowley.
Usually a tie vote means an item is left in committee and doesn’t move onto the entire city council. Mayor Mark Mallory has the executive power to disregard the tie and put it on council’s agenda. Whether the $100,000 expense will be on council’s Wednesday agenda remains unclear.
How Streicher chooses to spend taxpayer money and whether he abides by city council’s wishes says a great deal about the department’s priorities and whether Cincinnati’s form of government is functioning properly. CityBeat will continue to follow this story as more details emerge.
— Kevin Osborne