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Cincinnati Police Should Think Outside the Box

By Kevin Osborne · June 24th, 2009 · Porkopolis

Cincinnati neighborhoods could use more businesses like Milton’s Prospect Hill Tavern. The watering hole, located roughly where Mount Auburn touches Over-the-Rhine, usually features an interesting cross-section of customers: young and old, black and white, straight and gay. In short, its crowd is often a microcosm of the city.

Throughout much of the past two decades and despite changing ownership, the tavern has become a meeting ground for residents of the small Prospect Hill district and others who wander in by chance. Non-drinkers have even been known to show up just for the camaraderie and to catch up on the latest neighborhood news.

Kevin Feldman, Milton’s owner, has managed to keep his doors open during the economic downturn by creating a loyal clientele. But in a situation that’s become familiar to many neighborhood business owners throughout Cincinnati, his efforts are being strained to the breaking point by crime.

Twice during the span of a week, on May 25 and May 31, the bar was robbed while it was open. In one instance, a white man wearing a pink shirt and carrying a long-barreled gun entered the crowded bar and demanded the cash drawer; the other time, a black man wearing a ski mask and brandishing a handgun did the same. Police were called immediately, but despite the robbers fleeing on foot neither was caught in searches of the area.

Frustrated with the lackluster police response, Feldman is holding a fundraiser June 28 to help pay for security upgrades like indoor video cameras, increased outdoor lighting and fencing to enclose a patio area. Another tavern owner, Ronda Androski of Arnold’s Bar and Grill, is helping him.

Some nearby residents, who’ve recently tried to crack down on open-air drug dealing during daylight hours, say they’re doing their part with volunteerism, citizen patrols and neighborhood watch groups. They want the Cincinnati Police Department to step up efforts and change tactics, too.

“First and foremost, we need to get the police out of their cruisers and have some walking patrols in the various hotspots in Pendleton, Over-the-Rhine and Prospect Hill,” says resident Tom Hadley. “We need to focus on prevention rather than responding to crimes that have already occurred. We must devote more attention and resources to prevention and less on chasing criminals once crimes occur. I would love to see some walking police patrols on Main Street, 13th Street, Milton Street, Liberty Street (and elsewhere).”

Mount Auburn isn’t alone. Similar complaints have been lodged across the city, including in Westwood, Price Hill and Avondale.

More frequent walking and bicycle patrols were one of the much-publicized reforms promised as part of a settlement of a class-action racial profiling lawsuit in 2002, along with a separate pact with the U.S.

Justice Department. Known collectively as the Collaborative Agreement, the reforms were supposed to help improve police-community relations and defuse racial tensions that led to rioting a year earlier.

Ask around, though, and other than downtown’s Central Business District and the main thoroughfares of Over-the-Rhine, such foot and bike patrols are rarely seen.

Officials paid lip service to that part of the deal for a while. In 2005 City Council allocated $1.2 million in extra overtime pay to add police walking patrols in crime hotspots.

Two years earlier, to deal with a spike in homicides, police implemented a plan that included using two-person walking patrols about four nights a week near the playground at McKee Recreation Center in Northside, where residents had reported problems with loitering and drug dealing.

They were modeled after similar walking patrols done in Over-the-Rhine during 2002, when the department spent 10 percent of its overtime budget — or about $70,000 — to increase police visibility and presence in the neighborhood.

It’s easy to spot police on horses, bikes and Segways during the daytime downtown. Why that happens there is a bit of a mystery, because it’s certainly not a crime hotspot.

Trying to get a straight answer from the always tight-lipped police brass is like pulling teeth. When CityBeat asked where foot patrols were currently deployed, how many officers were involved and what criteria are used to select the spots, we got the typical doublespeak.

“Those numbers vary from day to day, depending on off-days, etc., so it’s kind of hard to say how much we have each day or how much we use because it will vary,” says Lt. Mark Briede, police spokesman. “You’ll see them in business districts and around shopping centers, wherever they can be most effective.”

To be sure, areas undergoing redevelopment — like Over-the-Rhine’s Gateway Quarter along Vine Street — do get police presence. Some cops, like Sgt. Steve Saunders, are well-liked neighborhood fixtures. But the vast majority of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods don’t receive that kind of attention.

Even the monitor appointed by a federal court to oversee the department’s compliance with the reforms said it could do better.

In the monitor’s final report, from December 2008, he wrote, “During the early years of the agreements, the CPD relied on its … ‘neighborhood officers’ (about 50 officers total) to work with the community and/or the Partnering Center on problem-solving efforts. The neighborhood officers represented a small percentage of the personnel devoted to daily interaction in the community.”

Make no mistake: Cincinnati isn’t as unsafe as its critics would have you believe, but we can do better.

There was much media attention given this week to a report by NeighborhoodScout.com, a Web site that compiles data for insurance companies. It claimed Over-the-Rhine was the most dangerous neighborhood in the nation, but its data was highly selective.

The site used crime statistics from 2005 to 2007 and only for a small area near Central Parkway and Liberty Street. As people who frequent Over-the-Rhine every day can tell you — and I’m one of them — that area is a mostly vacant industrialized strip.

But Over-the-Rhine is more than the gentrified Gateway Quarter or Findlay Market, too. Most of the residents who live on side streets in the 110-square block neighborhood get little or no police attention other than responding to shootings and murders after the fact.

Under most national policing standards, Cincinnati has more officers per capita than average for a city its size. It also has a crime rate per capita that’s much higher than the average. That means our problems are a matter of deployment, not resources.

Those findings remind me of Einstein’s famous quote about the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Cincinnati also got some good press this week from The New Yorker, which profiled the city’s anti-violence program aimed at gang leaders. The program stages interventions and helps find jobs for willing participants. Police command staff initially resisted the program, which was brought to City Council’s attention by a local physician. Now officers love it.

We need more unconventional and innovative thinking by our Police Department, and if the current command structure can’t provide it, perhaps it’s time to replace it.

PORKOPOLIS TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (EXT.147) or pork@citybeat.com



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