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Published: Friday, 11/15/2013

EDITORIALS

Top cop

Despite flaws, Chief Diggs has reduced crime and improved community relations

Toledo Police Chief Derrick Diggs, right, with one of the department's  German shepherds and two other members of the force. Toledo Police Chief Derrick Diggs, right, with one of the department's German shepherds and two other members of the force.
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Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins faces some tough personnel decisions that will help shape Toledo’s future as well as his own legacy. None are more important than who becomes his top cop.

In some cases, notably the Department of Neighborhoods, Mr. Collins must, frankly, clean house. That department’s unresponsive bureaucracy has thwarted part of its very mission — to help the city’s most vulnerable residents — and frayed relations with shelter operators and homeless advocates.

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But Mr. Collins’ responsibilities are less clear-cut with the Toledo Police Department, where Chief Derrick Diggs has compiled an impressive record of reducing crime, improving community relations, and boosting the morale of his more than 500 officers. Moreover, he’s done it during a tenure marred by historically low numbers of officers and pay cuts that could have demoralized the ranks.

After taking office in late 2011, Chief Diggs quickly adopted data-driven policing practices that target resources to so-called crime hot spots. The chief meets with high-ranking officers every two weeks to analyze crime data. Commanders are then held accountable for crime spikes in their areas.

At the same time, Chief Diggs has recognized that crime is a community problem, and that a police department without community support is impotent. He has made community policing not only a program, but also a way of doing business, 24/​7.

Under Chief Diggs, the department has expanded a Police Probation Team and started a juvenile detention alternative program that work to divert young offenders from the criminal justice system. This year, TPD launched a prison visitation program for at-risk youth.

A new Community Corridor Initiative will assign community police officers to work with neighborhood businesses. Toledo cops now team up with Lucas County sheriff’s deputies to do downtown community policing, including getting homeless people to shelters and services.

Next year, the department plans to expand the Domestic Violence Unit, after a spike in domestic homicides last year. Chief Diggs has placed renewed emphasis on social media and made the department’s Facebook page one of the nation’s most active police pages, with more than 12,000 followers and daily crime tips.

Those initiatives and many more have resulted in double-digit decreases in violent and property crimes during the first half of this year, according to FBI statistics. Homicides are down 45 percent; rapes, 11 percent; assaults, 23 percent, and burglaries and auto thefts have dropped more than 20 percent.

A Toledo native who grew up in the central city, Chief Diggs is generally well-liked and respected by both the community and his officers.

His record, however, is not unblemished. Acting contrary to open records laws, he and Mayor Mike Bell fought The Blade in obtaining the department’s gang map — a fight the city deservedly lost. Chief Diggs’ attitude toward the media has been, at best, dismissive, and that should concern everyone. Reporters shine a light on the policies and practices of a taxpayer-supported department with unique powers and potential for abuse.

To be fair, Chief Diggs’ public information officers have been responsive. But the chief sets the tone for transparency. Moreover, there are times when he needs to speak directly to the media and the community.

His aversion to openness appears deep-seated. For the chief, talking to the media is about as much fun as getting a root canal.

Unfortunately, the chief’s current boss and friend, Mr. Bell, has reinforced his penchant for secrecy. Under a more transparent mayor, Chief Diggs should do better. Mr. Collins must make clear that he expects a far more open and transparent police chief, whoever that may be.

On balance, however, Chief Diggs has made the department more proactive and professional — and he has made the city safer. No one can question his integrity or his love for, and dedication to, the city of Toledo.

Whatever decisions Mr. Collins makes regarding the office of police chief, they should be dictated by what’s best for Toledo, not acrimony or pettiness.

Mr. Collins has criticized the chief for not supporting his campaign statements that Toledo police never engage in racial profiling — a naive notion, anyway. However the chief felt about the issue — and the department’s internal report on racial profiling spoke for itself — he hardly could be expected to thrust himself in the middle of a campaign shoot-out.

It’s time for Mr. Collins to put the campaign behind and prepare for the business of running the city. In deciding who he wants to head the police department that he once worked for, Mr. Collins cannot overlook Chief Diggs’ shortcomings; nor should he ignore his considerable record as Toledo’s top cop.



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