Sunday, January 11, 2004

Time for action against killings


Cincinnati council members have proven they can feud for days over how to knock down the city's homicide rate. They can whine that their proposals aren't given proper respect, and vow an almost desperate willingness to try something new, but when do we get specifics?

Vice Mayor Alicia Reece plans to push for reinstatement of the police department's gang unit, which Police Chief Tom Streicher says he disbanded because it wasn't as effective as the current intelligence unit now handling such cases. Where's the evidence the city's 75 homicides in 2003, a 25-year high, were committed by gangs? Let's hear why Ms. Reece thinks the gangs unit can do better, and why the chief prefers the intelligence unit.

Let's also get beyond council recriminations that sound increasingly like high school. With all due respect to council members, this is not about you, and it's not about how much money the city should devote to it. It's about people getting shot up in neighborhoods.

It may not be about gangs, but it is certainly about illegal drugs. Streicher has said at least 90 percent of the killings are related to drugs. What can council do to help police and decent people in the neighborhoods crack down on drug thugs and illegal drug users? What can council do to persuade intimidated residents to inform and testify against violent criminals?

Some council members are pushing for a new grassroots task force to end the violence and find jobs. A task force of law enforcement, ministers groups, residents and civic volunteers may be a good idea, but tell us why we need another framework when this city spent a year developing the 2002 collaborative agreements for such things. They required a renewed partnership between police and residents designed to take on just such intolerable conditions as open-air illegal drug markets and gunmen terrorizing inner-city neighborhoods. They gave it the jawbreaking name of Community Problem Oriented Policing, but it's no abstraction. Mostly CPOP means friendly beat cops joining with residents willing to act, especially to protect or salvage each other's children.

Do we have enough cops walking beats day and night in neighborhoods infested with drug dealers and gunmen? Did the ministers mobilize their people? Did neighborhood councils recruit Citizens on Patrol? In some districts, yes, but the body count says: Not enough. Community Problem Oriented Policing hasn't failed. More likely, in many places, it hasn't been tried.

University of Cincinnati Criminal Justice Professor John Paul Wright recommends a domestic equivalent of the U.S. military's hunt for Saddam Hussein's terrorist henchmen. Wright would have police not only sweep crime hot-spots for people carrying guns and crack down on probation violators and repeat violent offenders, but he urges, after a homicide arrest, we should turn each killer's life inside out and go after his network of criminal associates.

We have plenty of frameworks, and too much rhetoric. What we need is more action.

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