Men who led reforms after Cincinnati riots to revamp UC police

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, OH (FOX19) - University of Cincinnati officials say reforms are already underway in the wake of the Sam DuBose shooting, but they will take time.

They are getting a big boost in their efforts by hiring the two men who were key to reforming Cincinnati police in the wake of the 2001 riots following a white officer fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager.

Assistant Cincinnati Police Chief James Whalen is retiring Aug. 21 and will begin working Sept. 8 as Director of Public Safety along with Greg Baker, who will serve as Director of  Police Community Relations. Baker has served as executive director for Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, also called CIRV.

UC President Santo Ono and Robin Engel, vice president for UC's public safety and reform, said in a morning press conference Monday both men were handpicked and are the best to lead the university as it revamps its police force after one of its officers, Ray Tensing, shot unarmed Dubose in the head during a July 19 traffic stop.

Tensing was indicted last month on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.

UC officials said they know they have to rebuild trust and credibility among some in the community after DuBose's death and after a FOX19 NOW investigation uncovered UCPD had tripled its traffic enforcement in the months following a deal with Cincinnati Police allowing UCPD to conduct off campus traffic enforcement.

CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell told FOX19 NOW he believed UCPD's traffic enforcement created the circumstances that led to DuBose's death.

"(Whalen) is the one when they have a crisis, a problem, an issue, he is the one they call to come to help, to fix it," Engel said Monday. "I've worked police commanders around the world and he is, to me, the single most operational commander I have ever met in this country and that is going to do a lot of work and a lot of good here at the university."

She also said Whalen can make a major cultural change and move and shift a major department at UC just like he did for Cincinnati police.

"There were a lot of good people who were led by Colonel Whalen and I know our university will have the same experiences," Engel said. "I will hold them accountable. I will bug them. I will be relentless, but we will work together as a team."

Whalen said he was approached with the new role about a week ago and will draw heavily on his 29-years experience with Cincinnati police. He is considered one of the most knowledgeable law enforcement officials in the region and moved up through the ranks as the patrolman son of a former chief to become a captain, district commander and one of the agency's assistant chief.

"I see it as a tremendous professional challenge," Whalen said, adding that community engagement is key to policing, especially in the current environment.

"Honestly, in an academic environment like this, we need to be almost invisible. Safety needs to be looked at like when you turn on a light switch - you don't think about the miles of wires that make the lights come on," said Whalen.

"It's not a matter of backing off law and order," he said. "It's a matter of being transparent, being credible and fair."

UC Police Chief Jason Goodrich will retain his role with the department.

He said a review already is underway of the police department's traffic stops and called the findings of a recent analysis "problematic."

A recently released report compiled by Engel showed between Jan. 1, 2015 and July 19, UCPD tripled its traffic stop count compared to all of 2013. During that same time, the number of white drivers stopped nearly doubled while the number of black drivers quadrupled.

Cincinnati City Council voted last week to suspend UCPD off campus patrols on city streets.

UCPD has purchased but hasn't installed an early warning system that allows administrators to track data from officers and flag problems.

The university is still working to get that system up and running.

With all the changes being made in UC's policing, FOX19 NOW reached out to students regarding how they feel campus will be affected.

"I just hope that any interactions I would have with an officer this next upcoming fall will be about my safety and about keeping students out of harm's way," said UC student Jack Hillis.

On Monday, the university made a commitment to uphold that safety and work on police reforms and community relations after the shooting of Sam DuBose.

"Anytime somebody's going to take a look at a situation like that and prevent it from happening ever again is a positive in any light," said UC student Wesley Goings.

Students will flood back to campus very soon.  Some of them will arrive for the first time.

"Once I got down here I was like, 'This is it.  This is where I need to be,'" said Kenneth Ganter, who just transferred to UC.

Ganter, a transfer student, arrived at UC this summer around the time of DuBose's death.

"These changes, I hope, will make this place safer around here for us students," Ganter said.

That's what university leaders promise as the new semester approaches.

"We promise to continue that level of safety for our students moving forward," UC President Santa Ono said at a press conference on Monday.

FOX19 NOW will continue to update this story on air and online.

Copyright 2015 WXIX. All rights reserved.