by SARAH WRIGHT and BRUCE RELLER JR. | The Municipal
Blue Ash, Ohio, Police Chief Paul Hartinger has been in law enforcement for 32 and a half years; he
began his law enforcement career with the Lockland Police Department, where he worked from 1984
until 1989 — when he tested for and was hired by the Blue Ash Police Department.
“I like the service aspect. I like the people I work for,” Hartinger said.
“I like the interaction with the community. I like being a police officer in these challenging times.”
He said he got into this line of work because he knew several police officers when he was a teenager and into his early college days. “Their job was very exciting, and I really liked what they did,” he noted. “It excited me, so I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Hartinger has worked as a patrol officer, detective, undercover drug investigator, traffic safety supervisor, crash investigator, patrol supervisor, administrative and patrol lieutenant during his time on the force. He then moved into the role of police chief in May 2013.
“What led me to take that position involved several factors, but the most prevalent was that I recognized that our employees were thirsting for an administration that lived up to core leadership principles,” Hartinger said. “Policing can become very autocratic and have such a concrete hierarchy. I wanted to offer our employees a better way of doing business by empowering them and flattening out the structure.” And the timing to do so worked perfectly as the department’s entire command staff retired, allowing Hartinger to rebuild it with other senior supervisors. “It was the perfect time to come in and effect changes and build upon the already great department we had by opening up opportunities for all of our employees to be a part of the organization,” he added.
The position also opened at the right time in Hartinger’s career, with him having prepared himself by attending as many administration and supervision courses as he could; additionally, he had attended the FBI National Academy in 2011. Finally, Hartinger said he had a good support system, both personally and professionally, with people who encouraged him to seek the position.
Having worked for the prior administrations, Hartinger said he learned a lot from them, including what worked and what could be improved; what employees wanted but had not been accomplished yet; and what was needed to make the department a good place to work.
“I learned from my own mistakes and failures and worked hard to make sure all my fellow employees knew me well and that I stayed true to my ideas so in this position I could grow that relationship and keep the organization moving forward,” Hartinger said.
That has also meant developing a wider network of support from all levels within Blue Ash’s city administration and mending some issues that existed between the police department and city government. Hartinger said, “I saw it as a chance to repair some of the relationships both internally and externally that had been ignored. I saw it as a chance to live up to some of the leadership principles I was teaching to others in supervision classes.”
Hartinger had numerous goals when he became chief with some of the bigger ones aiming at improving communication and trust while also building relationships. “One of the main goals was to get the department to act as a team and to reintroduce mid-level managers and patrol-level officers and employees to the concept of taking on responsibility for the bulk of tasks and function of the department,” he said.
Also, Hartinger wanted to reintroduce the idea of a meaningful mission statement all employees had a hand in creating, which would then allow for the instillation of core values and the meaning of said mission to permeate daily operations. “We formed a team,” he explained, “involving a large number of department members who took it seriously, and in less than four months, we implemented a department-wide effort to make it not only a statement, but a philosophy that we all live and breathe every day.”
He has also built up communication with the city administration, meeting with all city department leaders and council members when he took the position to let them know he was about to change things. “From day one, I attended all city council meetings and any special functions of the city, and made sure to establish and maintain the notion that the police department is an important function of the city,” Hartinger said.
That presence has extended to the county and region, with Hartinger being a member of several regional professional associations, including the Hamilton County Association Chiefs of Police, Ohio Association Chiefs of Police, Hamilton County Police Association and its training committee, and the FBI National Academy Associates. He regularly attends these organizations’ meetings and serves as a voice for the Blue Ash department on important issues while also reporting back information.
Building a strong rapport with community has been another major goal of Hartinger’s, which has come to fruition. “This was accomplished through a very strong media and social media campaign and reinvigorating the department to make it a priority,” Hartinger said. He noted the department has established a tight bond with a small community group called the Hazelwood Community Association. Hazelwood was originally predominately made up of African-American families in the late ‘40s and started to experience major redevelopment in the late ‘80s; however, Hartinger noted many of the older families from that original era still live in the neighborhood and continue to promote its heritage and culture, even as the area’s homes and racial makeup change.
“Our focus is to help support the community and improve our relationship with all residents there,” Hartinger said. “Through this interaction our group has founded a scholarship to help potential college students with college tuition at UC Blue Ash, with priority given to candidates from Hazelwood.”
Additionally, Hartinger noted the department has embraced professional and robust training thanks to a budget that sustains continual advanced training. Some of this training has included legal updates with the city legal department, CPR and first-aid training, use of force issues, agitated chaotic events/crisis intervention and other relevant or current topics. Regular department meetings have allowed employees to hear the same message from Hartinger and the command staff.
“I also produce a bi-monthly newsletter to the department, which contains issues of concern and enlightenment,” he added. “Keeping everyone informed and on the same page has greatly improved relationships, communication and lessened the rumor mill.
“I hear over and over again the ‘open door policy’ concept, and I live up to that as much as possible. It works great and helps people feel that there is not a separatist attitude within the command staff. It’s only detrimental when I forget the chain of command, but it makes people feel like I am approachable, and that I listen to them and I can relate to them.”
When he is not busy at his job, Hartinger enjoys spending time with his family, and his hobbies include backpacking, enjoying the outdoors and kayaking.
“I like high pointing, visiting the high point of every state,” he said. So far, he has 29 under his belt. “I was able to talk my children into visiting the Indiana high point, just over two hours away from home. While it’s not very high and it can be reached by car, it was a fun trip that helped reintroduce the adventure with the family. I plan to do many more as time permits. It’s a great way to see this great country.”