Sunday, May 05, 2002

When cops are handcuffed,
crime takes city hostage

        This is Cincinnati: A perfect spring day at a Reds game, families cracking jokes and peanuts, cheering until the last out, then back on the freeway to big, safe lawns in MiniVanville.

        This is Cincinnati on drugs: “They called me at home at 4 a.m. A voice said, "I'm here.' I said, "What do you mean, you're here?' He said, "I can see you sitting up in bed. Now I see you walking by your window.'”

        The man in the car fled before police arrived, but his words linger. “A man came to my house and threatened to rape my wife,” said Steve Goodin.

Like Chicago, 1929

        Mr. Goodin is an assistant Hamilton County prosecutor. The threats began when his wife, Jennifer, executive director of Ronald McDonald House, testified against renewal of a liquor license for Uncle Milt's, a hangout for drug dealers who infest Burnet Avenue.

        “I know what these guys are capable of,” Mr. Goodin said. “They can turn very violent when they feel their turf is violated.”

        It sounds like Chicago, 1929, not Cincinnati in 2002. But parts of Cincinnati look like lawless corners of Detroit and Los Angeles, where the drug boys operate brazenly in broad daylight, with no fear.

        Law-enforcement officials, community activists and residents agree: The police feel handcuffed.

        Cops no longer aggressively go after drug dealers because they've seen what happens when drug suspects resist arrest.

        In case after case, cops have been accused of racism and excessive force. The cops have been investigated, put on trial, threatened with jail, forced into debt for legal fees. Their careers and lives have been wrecked.

Blame the cops

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III has played the race card to make cops the bad guys and glorify outlaws as martyrs.

        “If you want to get the cops to back off, just yell, "Racial profiling,'” said Tom Jones, who is trying to clean up his mostly black neighborhood in Avondale. “The most ridiculous crap is accepted in Cincinnati, and nobody will say anything against it. If you do, you are ostracized.”

        Some blame the cops for a “slowdown.” But the same critics would be first to yell “racism” if a drug dealer resists and gets hurt. The cops know that. And drug dealers nearly always fight or run.

        To a cop, it's all pain and no gain to bust the drug markets in Over-the-Rhine and Avondale that provide curbside service to buyers from the suburbs.

        Even if they make an arrest, the dealer can be back on the street in hours, according to Tom Gould, chief deputy for Hamilton County Clerk of Courts James Cissel.

        “The cost of bail bonds up to a million dollars is often looked at as a cost of doing business in that world,” Mr. Gould said. “It's not unusual to see $25,000, up to $100,000 posted the same day. It takes about four to five hours to do the arrest paperwork. After that, they can be back on the street. It's revolving-door justice.”

        Mr. Goodin has watched the wide-open drug deals, prostitution, brawls and crime at Milt's after dark. He says, “It's insane.”

        And so is Cincinnati for handcuffing its cops as the drug cancer spreads.

        For now, it's an “inner-city” problem. But it could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

        Just ask Mr. and Mrs. Goodin.

        E-mail: Past columns at


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