Cincinnati City Council Passes Efforts Aimed at Reducing Violence — and Debates Long-Term Solutions

Keeping recreation centers open later. Hiring more community outreach workers. Adding more police. Addressing poverty and trauma. Will any of these efforts reduce violence on Cincinnati streets?

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click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

Cincinnati City Council passed a motion today by members P.G. Sittenfeld and Greg Landsman asking city administration to implement a raft of policy changes designed to immediately address a summer spike in gun violence that caused the city's most deadly month on record. 

Overall, this year has been less violent than most statistically. But 20 people were murdered in Cincinnati between May 30 and the end of June, and the violent spike has continued into July. That violence took the lives of two 14-year-olds just a week apart in Over-the-Rhine and Lower Price Hill.

Sittenfeld's and Landsman's motion asks the city to add two more Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence outreach workers and make sure CIRV workers are properly equipped to do their jobs; keep some Cincinnati Recreation Centers near violent hot spots in Price Hill open as late as midnight; install better lighting and cameras in those hot spots; immediately remove gang-related graffiti; and explore ways to partner with nonprofits to convince neighborhood residents to work with police on information about violence. 

While all six members of council present voted to pass the motion (council members Amy Murray, Jeff Pastor and Christopher Smitherman were excused from today's special council session), a few had questions about longer-term issues.

"To some extent, we're paying the piper — for the poverty in our community, the disparities in our community," council member David Mann said. Mann said he supported today's initiatives, but longer-term approaches to poverty are needed if the city wants to see significant reductions in violence. 

Mayor John Cranley, meanwhile, advocated for an increase in police officers to bring the force up to the 1,055 sworn officers Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac has requested. Isaac says that when CPD dips below 1,000 officers, it can't operate some of the programs it uses to reduce violence. Forty-two new recruits will come aboard in the coming weeks, but attrition will keep CPD's numbers low, Isaac says.

Some council members agree with that idea. But others, like council member Tamaya Dennard, say that more police aren't the solution to the deeper problems created by poverty, exposure to trauma and racial disparities.

Sittenfeld's and Landsman's motion takes a small step toward some of those issues, directing city administration to explore partnerships with community partners to offer trauma support at Cincinnati Recreation Centers. But more needs to be done, Dennard said.

"These kids are hurting," she said today. "They're dealing with issues that need to be addressed. One of the reasons I'm not in favor of adding police is that we cannot arrest away our problems."

The line between crime rates and policing staffing isn't a clear-cut one, experts say.

The Queen City has roughly 1,000 officers, or one per every 300 residents. That is more per capita than many other nearby mid-sized municipalities.

Louisville has 1,250 officers, or one per every 600 residents. Indianapolis has 1,700 officers, or one per every 516 residents. Columbus has 1,800 officers, or one per every 444 residents. Pittsburgh has 900 officers, or one per every 336 residents. Of these, only Indianapolis has had a higher crime rate than Cincinnati in recent years.

Meanwhile, Cleveland, with 1,600 officers (one officer per every 243 residents), and St. Louis, with 1,300 officers (one officer per every 244 residents), both have more officers per person than Cincinnati. But both also have had higher crime rates in recent years. 

Cranley and others have pointed out, however, that the call for more police comes from a desire to do more problem-oriented policing, or police work focused on a few people in so-called "hot spots" across the city. 

"This isn't about a dragnet approach," he said. "This is about targeted, strategic arrests for the worst offenders."

Police accountability advocate Iris Roley, part of the group that sued the city to get the federally mandated Collaborative Agreement following the 2001 police shooting of Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine, called today's proposals "knee-jerk."

She says that the application of problem-oriented policing that was part of that agreement needs to be consistent, and that responses to trouble signs within the community need to come sooner.

"We needed to be doing this after the first shooting, not the 14th," Roley said in council today. "It sends a message to portions of this community that they don't matter."

Sittenfeld defended his motion while promising more efforts in the future.

"No one is pretending this solves everything," he said. "But the intent is to make things better immediately. Because the immediate past is the deadliest month on record."

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