Every traffic ticket has a name. Every complaint has a face. Every crime report has a cast of characters acting out their roles in the world's longest-running reality show. Most fly past like rush-hour traffic. But some are impossible to forget.

Trina and Tony are two that are printed in permanent ink on the memory of Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher. "I was one of the first on the scene when Trina Dukes was thrown out of a fourth-story window up on Liberty Street," he says.

The 7-year-old girl was playing with friends on the sidewalk on July 29, 1986, when she was lured into a vacant building around the corner by Tony Powell. He dragged her to the fourth floor. But the rape he planned was interrupted when Trina's uncle came calling her name. She yelled back for help. Powell smothered her cries with his hand, threw her out the window and ran. Police later found Powell hiding behind the refrigerator in his mother's apartment.

He's serving life in Lucasville prison, eligible for his first parole hearing in 2013.

Streicher remembers it in HD detail: the way the young child cried as she was dying. Like all cops who are sworn to serve and protect, he has seen things he will never forget, and he knows things about the city that cannot be explained by any police report. And that's part of what makes him a better chief.

Like all the Cincinnati Police chiefs before him, he was a beat cop. A sidewalk soldier. A pavement pounder. It's an honored tradition. Chiefs come up from the ranks. They know Cincinnati the way a surgeon knows the human body, from the inside out, with all its flaws, frailties and fractures. It has made him one of the most successful and popular chiefs, with the longest service since Chief Stan Schrotel, who served from 1951-1966. Schrotel was profiled in Life magazine in 1957 and named "Top Cop" on the cover of Time magazine in 1961. He started as a beat cop, too, in 1934.

But that tradition could soon change.

Streicher plans to leave in March, 12 years after his hiring as chief. He will be just five months shy of 40 years on the job. Under terms of Ohi'™s DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Program), he has to retire or forfeit a pension pot of about $1 million.

And some at City Hall are itching to push the button on a 2002 voter initiative that allows an outsider to be police chief. They will be tempted to play the affirmative action game, choosing by race or gender to "make history," rather than on merit.

Assistant chiefs are already jockeying, Streicher says. Those eligible are Lt. Cols. Vincent Dimasi, Cindy Combs, James Whalen, Michael Cureton and Richard Janke.

Janke says he's not interested and believes it's time for an outsider. But Streicher says it's not so simple. Other cities fire disposable chiefs whenever something goes wrong. "The average tenure is two-and-a-half years," Streicher says. "Quite frankly, it might be refreshing to bring someone in, but how long does it take to learn the city? A long time."

His advice: "Pick the very best person," based on "their allegiance to the city." He says he will make recommendations if the city asks. "It's more than catching bad guys and writing tickets." That's one of the reasons he will trade his white hat and badge for a cap and gown this month and graduate with a master's degree in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati.

Newspaper articles scorched Streicher's $1 million payout. But the real cost is losing Streicher. The city may search in vain to find someone as qualified and knowledgeable to take his second-floor office on Ezzard Charles.

"Just when I think I've seen it all, something new comes along," he says. And he has seen plenty since he became a cop in 1971. There was the police strike in 1979, when cops surrounded City Hall, locked their cruisers with the lights flashing and threw their keys at the base of the Police Memorial.

He's seen cop killings that tore the city apart and a string of incendiary police shootings of violent black suspects.

He survived attacks by the local newspaper, rock-bottom cop morale, federal monitors, lawsuits and nasty racial politics.

In 1980, working on an undercover drug sting to buy $400 worth of Quaaludes, he shot and killed a suspect who drew a weapon on his partner. He still sees that film clip in his mind, at the strangest times. "You just snap back and wonder, where'd that come from?"

But his finest hours were the riots of April 2001, caused by a police shooting for which the officer was acquitted. The city manager wanted to fire Streicher to appease the mob. Instead, the chief stuck it out and led the city through its darkest days. "I can remember being up at Liberty and Vine. Fires were burning, smoke was everywhere, fire trucks were flying by, people were shouting and hollering and I was thinking, 'This is all just a bad dream."

A city council that indulged race-baiting for years blamed the police and sent in court-ordered outsiders to baby-sit them. But rather than quit and let the council ruin CPD, Streicher bit his tongue and gutted that out, too "” except for the time he told one of the expert monitors that she was not even qualified to take a lieutenant's exam.

"Out of all of that finger-pointing, bickering and nasty politics, came a much different city and region," he says. "Eight years ago, we were at the top of the list for the public's concerns. Now we (Cincinnati Police) don't even show up on the list."

He wants everyone to know that the city is safe and "downtown rocks."

So what next?

"The sheriff's position has been thrown at me." Private jobs have also called. Or he might go fishing for a while. "There's a lot of pressure, mostly the kind you put on yourself. But you also have to put your family second. As my wife asked, 'How long do you want to live in the fish bowl?'"

Whatever he does, he will remember Trina Dukes dying on the ground, and Tony Powell hiding behind a refrigerator, and the drug dealer he killed, and all of the days he went home knowing he did something to make the city safer, to help someone through the worst hours of their life.

Critics of the retirement payout should answer: How much would you demand to go through all that? How many people do you know who would risk their life to protect you? And if a good cop is not worth it, who is? â–