Three questions with Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl
When Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl watched the unrest that followed the police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., last year, he had a sense of déjà vu.
Biehl, who’s been Dayton police chief since 2008 and spent 24 years with the Cincinnati police department, says it reminded him of the riots in Cincinnati in 2001.
“I’d hope we’re in an era where we may learn that it’s possible to change the relationship between police and community,” says Biehl, who spent four years as executive director of Cincinnati’s Community Police Partnering Center, which grew out of the riots as a way of bringing the police and the community together.
What do you see as the biggest misconception about police-community relations?
There is this perception that if we just fix what’s wrong with police then police-community relations will improve. That is clearly not true. Police can improve what they do. They can improve how they do it, but if citizens aren’t engaged things don’t get better.
We have a number of Neighborhood Problem Solving Initiatives in Dayton. We build partnerships and work with agencies that have similar goals and missions. One is working with the mentally ill and substance dependent community downtown. They’ve developed a strategy to get them help from treatment services through Goodwill Easter Seals at the Miracle Clubhouse. Our disorder calls downtown are down about 18 percent over the last six months. Has it solved everything? No, but we’ve made significant improvement.
Does the growth of social media and instant communication accelerate tensions when there is an incident involving the police and the community?
It has because the belief is whoever got it out first has got it right and that’s rarely the case in a critical incident because the details are slow in coming. It takes time in an investigation to establish what is fact. It is interesting, social media played a critical role in solving what happened to Kylen English. (In 2011 English was being transported in a police car and broke out a window and jumped to his death off a Great Miami River bridge). There were lots of rumors and claims he had been tased by police or thrown off the bridge. After the incident, an individual crossing the bridge in another vehicle about the same time posted on Facebook that a fellow had broken out of police car and jumped off the bridge. That became invaluable information.
The City of Dayton has applied for a $700,000 grant for body camera for its police. What role do you see cameras playing in avoiding conflicts?
In low-level conflict or controversy, cameras will resolve what happened and whether it was proper or not. Where it will not likely resolve an issue is where the facts are in dispute. Body worn cameras bring some significant challenges and limitations. Look at the incident at the Beavercreek Wal-Mart last year. There were over 200 cameras in that store. There was more video documentation of that event than most events involving police. Yet, at end of the day, people formed radically different opinions. The video did nothing to resolve the dispute. It’s not a panacea.