Sunday, April 7, 2002
Violence up, arrests down
By Jane Prendergast, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati police are making fewer arrests and writing fewer traffic tickets, indicating that a work slowdown begun after last April's riots continues today.
At the same time, violent crime in the city is way up -- a 39 percent increase in the first two months of this year compared to the same time last year.
Police Chief Tom Streicher attributes the fall-off in arrests and ticket-writing to officers responding instead to the increasing violence. ''Do people want us to go out and look for parking violators or working on people shooting each other in the street?'' he says.
An Enquirer analysis of police department reports shows that overall arrests were down 10 percent this January and February from the same months last year.
Drug arrests were down 3 percent; vice arrests, down 11 percent; drunken driving arrests, down 39 percent. The number of citations issued for all kinds of traffic violations is off significantly, too. Hamilton County officials report they lost nearly $2 million in revenue from traffic fines last year and expect a similar loss in 2002.
''I'm just watching this big chunk of revenue not come in,'' says Tom Gould, administrator for the county clerk of courts. ''There may need to be a permanent shift in how we pay the bills.''
Roger Webster, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, says officers still feel unappreciated and are concerned about getting into trouble for doing their jobs.
''It's simple,'' he says. ''I think guys are still afraid.''
'We're busy constantly'
Police department records show officers are being kept busy.
They made 34 percent more ''priority runs'' in the first two months of this year over last. Those are calls for the most crucial emergencies: shootings, assaults in progress, auto accidents with serious injuries.
Police also responded to 8 percent more burglar alarms at businesses and residences.
But increased policing on high-priority crimes doesn't always result in more arrests, says Lt. Kurt Byrd, police department spokesman.
''You can't really link the two,'' he says. ''We've been doing very high-visibility things, a stronger presence in neighborhoods. That doesn't necessarily equate to arrests.''
Chief Streicher insists his officers are doing their jobs.
''Take a look,'' he says. ''We got our butts kicked on bank robberies last year, and this year we have a 100 percent closure rate on them. We've had some major drug operations. We're busy constantly.''
Officers today also are spread into more specialized assignments, some created in response to police controversies that broke open with the riots and continued in the months that followed, Chief Streicher says.
New assignments include walking patrols in Over-the-Rhine and a new Downtown Services Unit aimed at promoting a good image of the department and the perception of safety downtown.
The increase in other work is a legitimate explanation for the fall-off in arrests and tickets, says Capt. Ron Davis, vice president of the National Organization for Black Law Enforcement Executives and a supervisor for the Oakland, Calif., force.
''You do have to look at everything else that's going on there,'' he says. ''It has been quite a year in Cincinnati.''
'It's been horrible'
Nearly every one of the 1,020 Cincinnati police officers would agree.
Keith Fangman, former president of the Fraternal Order of Police and now a patrol officer in Over-the-Rhine, says the past 12 months will go down as the worst in his career.
''Riots, three officers indicted, three officers put on trial, a Justice Department investigation, FBI investigation, racial-profiling lawsuit, constant attacks from our critics,'' he says. ''It's been horrible.''
The number of violent crimes -- including murders, rapes and aggravated robberies -- started to rise a year ago, in the wake of the riots. Police officers acknowledged at the time that they were cutting back on proactive policing. They'd still answer 911 calls, but skip things like writing tickets.
Officer Fangman, then union president, was careful to say there was no organized job action. But he publicly urged officers to ''think twice'' before getting involved in ''self-initiated'' activity.
Some say the diminished police presence created a void that criminals easily stepped into. And the violence hasn't subsided.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati officers say they've been frustrated by public disdain in some parts of the city and exhausted by scrutiny from everyone from the U.S. Department of Justice to the Cincinnati Black United Front.
The officers also are dismayed by a requirement that they record the race of every person they meet in traffic stops, a rule City Council ordered a year ago.
''Mood, morale and everything -- I don't know what's going to happen with that,'' says Officer Alvin Triggs, who works in Evanston. ''But it's a trip. In my neighborhood, over 90 percent of the people we deal with are black.
''So if you're a white cop and you stop only black people, what are people going to say about you?'' says Officer Triggs, who is black. ''If I'm black and I do it, is that OK? That's what people are worried about.''
In general, the talk among police ranks about frustration and slowdown has waned in recent months.
Mayor Charlie Luken, who sought a Justice Department investigation after last April's riots, says he has seen a subtle, but important, shift in the culture of the department.
''I do believe that police on the street get the notion that each one of them is responsible for the image of the department, and I think that's an improvement,'' he says. ''Tom Streicher's statements about Officer (Stephen) Roach was an indication that things have changed.''
The chief last month outlined the findings of an internal investigation into the shooting that sparked the riots. It concluded that Officer Roach was wrong for running with his finger on the trigger of his gun and for initially lying to investigators about it. Chief Streicher also issued a statment reiterating that he will not tolerate dishonesty.
In the end, Mr. Luken says, the changes in the Cincinnati Police Department should be judged by one key indicator: a reduction in crime.
''We're not paying enough attention to the level of crime and violence on our city streets,'' he says.
He notes that 15 people have been victims of homicide in Cincinnati so far this year, setting a pace that could surpass last year's total 61 homicides.
Violence up, arrests down
Changes made since April 2001
Q&A with Police Chief Streicher
Q&A with former F.O.P. president Keith Fangman
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