Amid debate over the role university police officers play in public safety, city leaders, including University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, are pushing back against suggestions to remove campus cops.
“I’ve asked for a full top-to-bottom review of the university police department,” Ono told NBC News one day after UC Officer Ray Tensing was indicted on murder charges over the fatal shooting of Samuel DuBose, an unarmed motorist, earlier this month. “We are fully committed to taking any necessary steps to become a stronger and better police force.”
Ono added that UC officers receive the same training as police officers in the state of Ohio, and there is a “stringent process” to vet potential UC officers before the campus offered jobs. The independent review, he said, is an opportunity for the campus to learn and to do everything it can to reaffirm its commitment to safety.
DuBose was fatally shot in the head during a July 19 traffic stop -- an incident that was captured by Tensing’s and fellow responding officers’ body cameras, leading to murder charges for Tensing and administrative leave for the two additional officers. Ono was among those last week calling for the release of the body camera footage after Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said he would not release the video footage until after the grand jury viewed it.
“We decided to [implement body cameras] in 2014 because we wanted to have the capacity to review what’s happening with our officers,” Ono said. “And that video was a major piece of evidence in this investigation.”
The shooting and aftermath have put Ono, one of the few Asian-American college presidents, in the national spotlight as he enters his fourth year as head of the University of Cincinnati.
Born in Vancouver to Japanese immigrants, Ono has acknowledged in the past that it’s “still quite the exception” for universities--and large corporations--to have Asian-American leaders. “Part of it is the pipeline, but part of it is what they (Asian Americans) major in and what they focus on in terms of prospective careers,” Ono said in a 2013 interview with Nichi Bei. “It’s very rare that a medical doctor would be interested or be considered for a college presidency.”
Ono’s efforts to reach out to students through social media has gained him widespread praise, most notably after he embarked on a #HottestCollegeInAmerica tour to promote UC in 2013. In 2015, Inside Higher Ed named him the country’s most notable college president.
Last month, Ono made local headlines when he refused his annual bonus for the third year in a row.
“The reason we have universities is to groom and further the lives of the next generation. I think that university presidents are well-compensated, and that the funds that would go to me for a raise or bonus could have a much bigger impact on the lives of students than on my own life,” he explained to NBC News.
Ono’s $200,000 bonus was divided among scholarships and charities, including funds for the family of Sonny Kim, a Cincinnati police officer who was killed in the line of duty in June. Ono has also offered Kim’s three sons full rides to University of Cincinnati.
As the national spotlight now focuses on his city, Ono is staying focused on moving forward.
“There’s been a lot of tension in many cities over the last few months and the last year," he said. "I’m very grateful to be in a city such as Cincinnati where the leaders really come together and collaborate. It’s really pivotal in this case where the mayor and myself and the clergy and civil leaders came together to focus on working together to move the whole city to a better place.”