James Whalen

Inducted April 2013

Nominated by Robin Engel, University of Cincinnati


Lt. Colonel James L. Whalen is Assistant Chief of the Cincinnati Police Department and Commander for the Office of Support Services. In this role he has direct responsibility for a number of units and sections including the Planning Section, Human Resources Section (includes Training and Recruiting), Technology and Systems Section, and the Crime Analysis and Problem Solving Unit. He is also the SWAT Commander.

Lt. Colonel Whalen previously served in a number of leadership positions in the Cincinnati Police Department including as Patrol Bureau Commander, Resource Bureau Commander, and Investigations Bureau Commander. He has served in the Cincinnati Police Department since 1986 and also as an officer in Miami-Dade, Florida from 1982-1985.

He is a member of the International Association Chiefs of Police, the Police Executive Research Forum, the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute Advisory Board, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association Legal Liaison Advisory Committee. He is the 2005 recipient of the Pinnacle Award for Outstanding Service from the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and a winner of the 2004 President’s Star Award from the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce.

Lt. Colonel Whalen earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati and a JD from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the Senior Management Institute for Police offered by the Police Executive Research Forum.

Evidence-Based Research and Practice:

Lt. Colonel Whalen has been involved in a number of efforts to advance evidence-based policing in the Cincinnati Police Department. He helped transition the department to problem-solving policing, successfully completing the requirements of the Collaborative Agreement (the consent decree the Cincinnati Police Department reached with the U.S. Department of Justice). As Robin Engel of the University of Cincinnati wrote in her nomination letter, “Colonel Whalen’s work in the area of problem solving did more than ensure compliance for the Collaborative Agreement – it led the agency toward the adoption and use of evidence-based practices that will continue for decades. It is clear to those working in partnership with the Cincinnati Police Department that the seemingly miraculous shift in agency culture, was not a miracle at all, but rather was led by the persistent dedication and hard work of Colonel Whalen.”

Lt. Colonel Whalen was also heavily involved in the implementation of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), a multi-agency, community collaboration designed to reduce gun violence perpetrated by violent groups/gangs. A 42-month evaluation conducted by University of Cincinnati researchers demonstrated a statistically significant 41% reduction in group-member involved homicides and a 22% reduction in all shootings in Cincinnati since CIRV’s inception. The focused deterrence program has won world-wide acclaim as well as the Webber-Seavey Award for excellence in policing and the West Award for Excellence in Criminal Investigations.

Although many were involved in the CIRV effort, Engel writes that no one was more heavily invested and responsible for its success than Colonel Whalen, as the effort was initiated in 2007 based directly on his understanding and embracement of the model. Lt. Colonel Whalen served in various capacities on the CIRV team from 2007-present, including as the Co-Chair of the initiative, Law Enforcement Team Leader, and Systems Team Leader. Throughout this time, he was solely responsible for ensuring that the CPD engaged in the focused deterrence approach. He also personally trained every officer in the department about the methodology surrounding CIRV by conducting weekly sessions at in-service training for over a year.

As a result of the success of CIRV, Lt. Colonel Whalen has provided consultation and expert advice on reducing gang violence to a number of localities including the states of Ohio and California and numerous cities in the U.S. and abroad, including Birmingham, AL; Atlanta, GA; Pittsburgh, PA; Louisville, KY; Milwaukee, WI; Kansas City, MO, New Orleans, LA, London, England; Adelaide, South Australia; Glasgow, Scotland and Toronto, Canada.

Lt. Colonel Whalen has also shown a strong commitment to police-academic partnerships, working closely with University of Cincinnati researchers on a number of research efforts. Evaluations of a new COMPSTAT style approach called STARS (Strategic and Tactical Analysis Review for Solutions) and a hot spots intervention with multiple treatments (officers walking, officers stationary, and officers stationary with lights) are currently underway.

When asked about his philosophy regarding evidence-based policing and the difficult task in institutionalizing research into practice, Colonel Whalen emphasizes how both researchers and the police have to see, experience, and learn about the value that the other has to offer. He believes that younger officers are already interested and ready to receive this type of policing. They just need the right combination of good leadership at all ranks and steadfast support from researchers like Professor Engel and Eck.

Statement from Inductee:

As a competitive, Type A personality, it pains me somewhat to admit how much my views have changed over the years about “smart” ways to approach policing. My policing career began in the early 1980s when I was just a 20-year-old cadet in the Metro-Dade (FL) Police Academy. During this time, community policing was acknowledged, but certainly not implemented by “real police.” In 1986, I moved back home to Cincinnati, again completed a police academy, and began my career with the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD). Here I learned that my profession was still convinced that the police could handle society’s problems without the involvement of external entities. When I entered college in the late 1980s while still working full-time, it struck me as ironic that the policing profession recognized a formal education as a desirable trait for hiring and promotions, yet daily policing practices remained very much business as usual. In short, educational attainment looked good on paper, but was not readily applied in the field. During my time in law school, my perspective broadened as I realized there were multiple approaches to any single issue, and there was no requirement that one approach was right or wrong.

As I rose through the ranks, I constantly found myself striving for something more meaningful in my professional career. While the promotion process fed that need to some extent, it still carried over into my daily working mentality. As a Captain in the busiest police district in Cincinnati in 2003-2004, I had an epiphany that dramatically changed my perspective about the importance of being more than just effective at reducing crime. I learned firsthand the necessity of establishing legitimacy in policing. We had worked with a community group to implement a creative “road closure” in an inner-city neighborhood as a means to reduce a drive-thru drug market. Although successful, the initiative drew criticism from local business owners, elected officials, and the media as an extreme tactic that was likely unnecessary. I was placed in the uncomfortable situation of defending a simple and effective solution that disrupted illegal drug markets; yet there was little public support.  A colleague suggested asking researchers from the local University of Cincinnati (UC) to study the project and provide an academic opinion. Researchers and graduate students from UC studied the impact of the road closure and indicated that it was an effective strategy with little crime displacement. Within a few short weeks, the same community members, politicians, and media that were roasting us were now admiring this “smarter” way of policing. The same words, spoken by researchers, had the desired effect and allowed us to move forward.

While initially offensive to police, this reality persists. The need to establish legitimacy is a critical, yet often undervalued component of effective policing. Effective policing requires an engaged and supportive community; yet cultivating this type of productive relationship is one of the most challenging aspects for police leaders. Municipal policing was designed on the premise that most of the population would obey the law and the police would handle the few who did not. Many of our communities are upside down in this equation, and the police are often overwhelmed. The notion at the beginning of my career that the police could handle society’s problems now seems incredibly naïve. Law enforcement’s next step forward will require the universal opening of our traditionally closed agencies to multiple types of partnerships. It will also involve streamlining the efforts of other government entities (i.e. mental health officials, building inspectors, probation officers, etc.) as well as non-governmental entities such as community groups and civic organizations.

But law enforcement’s strongest ally lies in academia. Our colleges and universities offer innovation and insight with little or no funding required from local police agencies. They provide us with evidence-based practices to address our most chronic problems. The relationship between the CPD and UC has grown such that we interchangeably work and learn in one another’s facilities; most of the CPD’s strategy discussions involve significant academic input. Researcher and practitioner knowledge is easily transferred. As academics share the results of their research and graduate students are willing to work on police problems, officers are able to apply this information as they continue with their daily work.  It relieves police departments of the need to dedicate more staff to research functions and it taps into a source that is educated and well-funded, far beyond what any single police department could replicate on its own.  Law enforcement leaders have to be mature enough to welcome the participation of academia, while researchers must be patient and diligent in their efforts. When properly implemented, the benefits derived from a successful partnership are tremendous. Our police-academic partnership has strongly impacted violence in our city through the implementation of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). We navigated a contentious Justice Department intervention in the mid-2000s and continue to progress on important policy issues. We developed a next-evolution to Compstat that guides both our short-term deployment and long-term problem solving efforts, while holding our personnel accountable for their performance in a progressive and professional manner. And we recently launched an innovative directed-patrol experiment to determine precisely what activities have the greatest impact on deterring crime in identified hotspots.

We live in an era of shrinking budgets and personnel complements, with fewer social service resources; however the demand for police services has not receded and police are still expected to provide a safe environment.  Police agencies that are able to understand the value of transparency, working smarter, and establishing valuable external partnerships will be the agencies that succeed in the future. I was fortunate in my career to be part of a perfect storm that came together to guide my insights. I recognized the value of higher learning, and was part of a leadership team that took a chance on innovation and working smarter. And finally, a series of unpredictable events over a period of years – race riots, DOJ intervention, and a soaring homicide rate – required me to think broadly and expand the pool of possible solutions. Law enforcement should no longer require a perfect storm to seek the significant contributions academia can make to policing. Likewise, it is time for academia to venture from the hallowed halls of learning and meet law enforcement halfway. Sitting back, studying, and criticizing practitioners is a waste of intellect and reasoning that could be better used to help the police become more effective.  Our colleges and universities are the best source available for identifying evidence-based practices, and the police are the only source to implement these practices. It is time for more strategic police-academic partnerships like we have established in Cincinnati. The results of such partnerships are not inflated egos or flashy headlines – but rather the results are reduced criminal victimization, fewer lives lost to violence, reduced economic costs associated with crime, more efficient governmental operations, and more fulfilling work environments for both law enforcement and academics as they translate theory into action.


Robin Engel, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati:

I can personally attest to the positive impact that Colonel Whalen has had within the CPD and in other agencies across the country and around the world. Over the years, I have watched him encounter and conquer numerous organizational impediments to continue to advance best practices. He routinely overcomes these obstacles and is transforming the Cincinnati Police Department into a “thinking” organization that embraces evidence-based practices. His amazing efforts should be applauded. It is only through this type of transformational and inspirational leadership that the policing field will continue to advance.

Contributions to Grants, Publications, and Projects:

  • Engel, R. S., & Whalen, J. L. (2010). Police–academic partnerships: Ending the dialogue of the deaf, the Cincinnati experience. Police Practice and Research, 11(2), 105–116.
  • Engel, R. S., Tillyer, M. S., & Corsaro, N. (in press). Reducing gang violence using focused deterrence: Evaluating the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). Justice Quarterly.
  • Seabrook, J. (2009). Don’t shoot. A radical approach to the problem of gang violence. The New Yorker, June 22, 32–41.
  • Tillyer, M. S., Engel, R. S., & Lovins, B. (2012). Beyond Boston: Applying theory to understand and address sustainability issues in focused deterrence initiatives for violence reduction. Crime & Delinquency, 58(6), 973–997.
  • Whalen, J. L. (2012). Strength in unity: Cincinnati Police team up with academics. Gazette, 74(4), 22–23.