Cincinnati Officials Outline Immediate Plans to Address Spike in Gun Violence — But What About Deeper Issues?

Overall, shootings have trended down in Cincinnati, but a large spike in violence this summer has caused concerns. Data, and some experts, suggest reducing violence long-term may involve struggling with difficult, deep-rooted socioeconomic problems.

click to enlarge Storrs Street in Lower Price Hill, where Cameron Franklin was killed. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Storrs Street in Lower Price Hill, where Cameron Franklin was killed.

In the midst of an especially deadly summer for gun violence in Cincinnati, city officials have outlined immediate plans for curbing the shootings. 

But, even as Cincinnati's overall rate of violence has slowed in recent years, the bloodshed that persists may have deeper roots that need long-term solutions, data and some experts suggest.

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac at a news conference July 11 said the department will utilize overtime funds and pull officers from specialized services and supervisory duties to increase police patrol presence in areas that have seen recurring violence recently. 

Isaac also said that the department will soon be rolling out ShotSpotter, a technology that notifies police of gunshots, where some of the recent shootings have occurred.

Finally, CPD officials have also said the department is looking to up curfew enforcement and boost efforts around youth engagement, including its partnerships with nonprofits and its own programs like Youth Police Camp, the Police Explorer Program and others.

Since the end of May, 20 people have died in shootings in Cincinnati — more than half of the 32 murders the city has seen since the beginning of the year. Four of those killed since the beginning of June were under the age of 20, and at least two were minors. 

Anthony Hinton, 14, died from gunshot wounds about 6 a.m. June 30 near Grant Park in Over-the-Rhine, becoming the city's 14th homicide victim in 30 days and capping off the deadliest month in Cincinnati in at least two decades. Twenty-seven other people were injured in shootings in June.

The start of a new month brought more violence. That wasn't entirely unexpected — shootings and other violent crimes tend to spike when the weather heats up as people spend more time outdoors — but the increase has been especially alarming this year.

Around midnight on July 6, someone shot 14-year-old Cameron Franklin in the head on Storrs Street in Lower Price Hill. He died at the scene. Franklin's family says the boy was well-liked and generally well-behaved. They also say Franklin may have been targeted after an altercation he was involved in at West High, where he attended school.Franklin knew Hinton and was mourning his friend's death. 

"It was rough," Patricia Franklin, Cameron's mother, told WLWT. "It was hard. It was a long week trying to get him through it."

In between those two tragic deaths, a shooting on the Fourth of July killed 18-year-old Bryan Messer in West Price Hill.

Authorities say they have arrested a suspect in that case, though no arrests have been made in Franklin's and Hinton's shootings. Cincinnati Police have arrested suspects in about half the killings that occurred in June.

The shootings came in a year when violence had otherwise been down in the city. Overall, Cincinnati's 32 homicides so far this year — mostly from gunfire — are less than the city's average of 34 murders per year over the past three years and the 36 murders the city had seen by June 29 last year.  Overall, 176 people have been shot this year — also lower than usual.

But gun violence has continued to increase over the summer. Four people in Cincinnati were shot in a four-hour period July 9 — one fatally in West Price Hill. 

Prior to the July 11 news conference, police officials discussed increased curfew enforcement as a solution. Currently, minors under 16 can't be alone in public after 10 p.m. and those under 18 can't be out and about after midnight. Those curfew rules run until 5 a.m. 

Police could step up efforts to make sure young people are abiding by those rules. 

"Our belief is when you have young people that are out at 2 and 3 in the morning there is something going on in that family," Isaac said at the July 11 news conference. "We're not looking for a heavy-handed approach to that but we want to offer assistance to those families."

But further enforcing the curfew likely won't address the whole issue. Sixteen of the city's 20 recent gun murder victims were over 20 years old. It is unclear how many of the shooters have been minors. At least some, however, have been adults. Tyshawn Mayer, the man who shot Messer in West Price Hill earlier this month, is 26, for example.

click to enlarge Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac - Casey Weldon/City of Cincinnati
Casey Weldon/City of Cincinnati
Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac

There are other solutions on the way, officials say. The areas where Messer and Franklin were shot will soon get ShotSpotter, a technology that uses up to 25 sensors per square mile on rooftops and utility poles to detect gunshots and relay the location of the shots to police in under a minute. 

So far, Cincinnati has installed ShotSpotter in parts of Avondale, Corryville, Mount Auburn and Walnut Hills. The city plans to place the technology in East, West and Lower Price Hill in the next month. 

Officials have credited ShotSpotter with a 50-percent drop in shootings after its introduction in Avondale. But some in other cities have questioned whether the tool is effective, and at least one municipality has ceased using the technology after it missed some gunshots.

Whether things like curfew enforcement and technology can make a dent in the shootings, the deeper roots of the violence — and long-term solutions — may involve political and socioeconomic issues that go beyond policing.

One potential method of reducing shootings some have advocated — more restrictive gun laws — is likely beyond the reach of city officials, who are barred by state law from passing gun control legislation.

Many of the killings have happened in low-income communities. Of the at least 32 murders in Cincinnati so far this year, 27 have happened in communities where families have well below the city's median household income. Those murders occurred in the West End (4), West Price Hill (4), Avondale (3), Bond Hill (3), Evanston (3), Over-the-Rhine (3), South Fairmount (3), East Price Hill (1), East Westwood (1), Lower Price Hill (1) and Villages at Roll Hill (1).

It isn't that most low-income people commit more crime, experts say. It's that low-income communities are especially vulnerable to violence often associated with trauma, illicit activity or both committed by a few members of the community.

“There is a strong correlation between homicide and income inequality,” UCLA social welfare professor Mark Kaplan told a crowd at a 2017 presentation at the university about research around firearm-related deaths in the U.S. 

Kaplan, who has conducted extensive research on the intersections of violence, race and economics, highlighted that counties in the United States with the least inequality also have the fewest gun murders. 

Because of a history of racial and economic disparities in the U.S., the pains of neighborhood violence often fall hardest on African-Americans, who have accounted for at least 27 of Cincinnati's murders this year. Nationally, young African-American males have a gun murder rate of 89 per 100,000 — similar to rates in countries with some of the highest murder rates in the world.

Even Federal Bureau of Investigation officials have acknowledged the link between inequity and crime.

“So many young men of color become part of (the justice system) because so many minority families and communities are struggling,” then-FBI Director James Comey said in a 2015 speech on race and law enforcement at Georgetown University. “They lack all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted.” 

Addressing socioeconomic disparities is a huge task in and of itself, though — one that takes a long-term approach, especially in a city where 28 percent of the population lives in poverty. City leaders from the mayor to Cincinnati City Council have unveiled efforts to address the problem, but the city's poverty rate is still four points higher than it was before the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

In recent years, a debate has popped up about more systemic, public health-oriented approaches to violence reduction that take into account exposure to trauma, poverty and other socioeconomic conditions. This more systemic approach became a key piece of the 2017 mayoral race between Mayor John Cranley and then-Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, the latter of whom wanted to try new programs that would have embedded psychological trauma specialists with emergency responders. 

Some experts believe that simply throwing more police officers at the complex, knotty problems that spark neighborhood violence won't solve the problem on its own.

“We published a study synthesizing all of the studies of police force size and crime and could not find a scintilla of evidence that expanding a police force would reduce crime,” John Eck, a University of Cincinnati criminal justice professor, told CityBeat in 2017. That study looked at both crime data and police department size data from 1968 to 2013 and found no correlation between the two.

For Eck, the key can be found in changing strategy, not changing size.

CPD has made efforts to change its approach. In 2016, the department rolled out a new initiative called Place-Based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories, or PIVOT. 

PIVOT is designed to further efforts like the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV, which started in 2007. PIVOT combines CIRV’s focus on the networks linking the relatively small number of violent offenders and the community with data-driven, intensive attention to chronic crime locations. Even some police reform advocates who have decried racial disparities in policing have applauded PIVOT as a possible way to reduce those disparities while chipping away at neighborhood violence. Officials' recent suggestions about pulling officers from other, non-policing duties to patrol problem areas would likely align with PIVOT strategies. 

The question is whether that alone can quell the violence. The overall reduction in shootings over the past few years shows that approaches like PIVOT may be working — but spikes like this summer's shootings suggest they may also have their limits. 

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