By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer
When Mark Brown took the helm of this river town's small police force nearly two years ago, he said he wanted to redeem himself in the eyes of the community.
In the process, this weathered law enforcement official has transformed a once backward police department into an innovator.
And people have taken notice.
"Dayton has turned a corner," said Police Chief William Cole of the neighboring city of Bellevue. "I think the police department is heading towards a much more professional standing in the county. We have found the department much easier to work with since the changes put in place by ... the chief."
Brown - once known for being fired as Fort Wright's police chief amid allegations of intimidation and mishandling a sexual harassment complaint - is now recognized as the man who modernized a failing department.
"We have sustained good leadership through Chief Brown," said Dayton Mayor Ken Rankle. "He has been a positive impact on our department. People have always thought of Dayton as crime ridden, and our police department as not being up to par. That just isn't true."
Allegations of nepotism in the police department - and politicians meddling in criminal investigations - drove out at least one former Dayton police chief.
Another chief resigned his first day on the job.
Brown, hired in 2002, replaced him. And since then, the city has been quietly rebuilding its force. The effort has included using creative means to invest in laptop computers for cruisers, Taser stun guns and dashboard cameras.
"For so long Dayton had the reputation as being behind the pack," Dayton Officer Bret Wiley said. "The fact is we are leading the pack. In some areas, we are above the curve."
Dayton police Sgt. Raleigh Barnett said the new technology is a reflection of a more efficiently run department. He said that when he was hired in 1997, the department regularly had five pages of outstanding warrants it needed to serve. The backlog has been eliminated. A few weeks ago, there were only eight outstanding warrants in Dayton.
Rankle said one problem the community faced was retaining good officers. Two years ago, the city had the second-lowest-paid officers of any agency in Campbell County.
"We had such a high turnover, residents didn't have a chance to get to know the officers," Rankle said. "There were always new faces. Residents didn't feel like the officers were part of the community."
The city stopped the hemorrhaging of officers leaving for wealthy suburbs by increasing the base pay by 9 percent over the past two years. Brown also initiated a seniority system designed to increase salaries of officers based on their years of service. Dayton's pay is now about the average for the area.
Dayton has joined police from Alexandria and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in sharing technology that allows them to have laptop computers in their cruisers connected to crime-fighting databases.
Wiley, who headed up the initiative for Dayton, said officers can do such work as run license plate checks, check for outstanding warrants and issue alerts through the laptops in their cruiser.
Fort Thomas Lt. Ken Fecher said his city will soon get its own laptops.
"When everyone sees how good they work, they will all want them," he said. "I believe the fact Dayton already had them helped influence Fort Thomas' decision to spend the money on (laptops)."
As Cincinnati police grappled with affording Taser stun guns for each of its officers, Dayton already had offered Tasers - and training to be a certified Taser instructor - to all its officers.
Brown, who retired as a sergeant from Cincinnati police in 1994, has used his contacts from Ohio to Dayton's advantage. Dayton sold its 1994 police cruisers at a city of Cincinnati surplus auction in exchange for buying Cincinnati's 1998 police cruisers.
The deal benefited cash-strapped Dayton in two ways: The city got much higher bids for its old cruisers because more people attend auctions in Cincinnati, thus driving up the price of bids. And the 1998 Cincinnati cruisers Dayton purchased were equipped with newer technology, such as dashboard cameras. Now Dayton has cameras in all its cars.
"A lot of people would swear Dayton was a pirate's den," Brown said. "They think we have a lot of crime. That is just not true. The mayor and City Council are out to change that image."
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