Thursday, September 30, 2004

City spends on monitors, not safety

Peter Bronson

Sometimes news stories are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They pile up on a table until we have time to sit down and fit them together. Such as:

• Deficit freezes hiring, delays new police: In August, in the midst of a homicide epidemic, Cincinnati City Council canceled a police recruit class and moved 25 desk officers to the streets to save $400,000, because council's checkbook was overdrawn by about $11.5 million.

A police recruiting class scheduled to start this month, to put 30 new cops on the street in February, has been postponed for a class of 50 that graduates next June.

That piece fits with:

• Drug Detail: Necessary step for Chamber. The Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, which spends $300,000 to hire off-duty cops to protect businesses from crime, is running out of money. And:

• Will Main Street ever be main attraction? The entertainment district in Over-the-Rhine is being strangled by crime. And:

• Cincinnati to cut $4.2M more; Fire Department takes biggest hit. Firefighters are warning that budget cuts and manpower reductions are unsafe for them and for the public.

The picture on the puzzle box is getting clear. It looks like incompetent government. City Council has spent so much on pork and pet projects, it can't afford basic fire and police protection.

Meanwhile, private business owners are being asked to dig into their own pockets for police protection. Even Tender Mercies, a home for the mentally ill at 12th and Republic, donated $4,000. "I wish we had more to give,'' said Director Marcia Spaeth. "It has made a huge difference. We used to have shootings outside almost weekly. Drug dealing and violent crime are way down.''

"There's a big problem with this picture,'' said Cincinnati FOP President Harry Roberts. "The city's first priority should be public safety, and it obviously is not. The priorities are all mixed up. We have the same number of police officers we had 40 years ago, with 10 times the crime, especially violent crime.''

Joe Diebold, president of the firefighters union, said, "The biggest job of government is the safety of its citizens. Once you lost that, you lose everything. This whole situation will cause us to sink further into the abyss as a city.''

And the city's response is ... Here's the missing piece:

• City's police monitor confident: "More than three years after Cincinnati's riots, the Police Department is moving forward with reforms intended to improve its relationship with the community,'' says the story from Sept. 13. "But the man overseeing those reforms says change has been slower than he'd like.''

The king of the collaborative, Saul Green, talked about "mediation'' and "implementation of the memorandum'' and how people "are not talking the way they ought to.''

For stuff like that, the city has spent $4.7 million - so far.

But Mr. Monitor is accidentally right. We're not talking the way we ought to.

We ought to be talking about making the spendaholics on council patrol Over-the-Rhine until they get a clue and hire more cops.

We should be talking about how citizens who struggle to run businesses in high-crime zones have already paid for police protection. They call it "taxes.''

We ought to be talking about how all these jigsaw pieces fit together and form a new puzzle:

What the heck is City Hall thinking?

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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