Morning News and Stuff

Hartmann: county-level crime lab a "luxury item"; for Pete's sake, new MLB commissioner may reconsider ban; Kasich budget will double drug treatment funding for Ohio inmates

click to enlarge A cluttered work station in a cramped hallway.
A cluttered work station in a cramped hallway.

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on in Cincy and the wider world today.

Is a county-level crime lab a luxury item? That’s a comment Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann made yesterday during the annual “state of the county” speech attended by many high-level county officials. Hartmann made the statement in response to a question about moving the county’s morgue and crime lab to a vacant hospital in Mount Airy. We checked out the alarming condition of the morgue and crime lab in December. Most, including county commissioners, agree that Hamilton County’s crime lab and morgue are outdated and that the county will soon need to find new options for both. But they say moving to the Mount Airy hospital would be prohibitively expensive, and they’ve paused the idea as they look for private partners to go in on the $100 million retrofitting project. Hartmann argues that a regional crime lab put together by several counties in the region would be a more efficient option. But his comments continue a long-running rift between conservative commissioners and Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco, who called the statement ridiculous.

“A luxury? As in maybe his fancy cars that are maybe a luxury?" Sammarco said. "Name one person in this county that thinks public safety is a luxury item. Public safety is not a luxury.”

• Did flaws in demolition plans for the old Hopple Street offramp over I-75 cause its collapse last month? Some experts think so, though Kokosing Construction, the company hired on a $91 million contract to carry out the demolition, contests that. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, last minute changes were made to the demolition efforts as detailed in plans acquired through public information requests. Those changes, an independent expert says, could have caused the bridge failure that killed one construction worker, injured a truck driver and shut down southbound I-75 for hours. The expert says some calculations in the plan were flawed; Kokosing says they were checked by multiple experienced technicians. Experts have also criticized the wider method by which the bridge was being demolished, saying that the middle section should have been removed first.

• After a quarter century, will Pete Rose finally be eligible to enter the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred may open a window for the 73-year-old to enter the hall after all. Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 after he was caught gambling, holds the all-time record for hits in the MLB with 4,256. Fans have actively campaigned for Rose to be reinstated, but outgoing commissioner Bud Selig was steadfast in his refusal to allow Rose back. Manfred, however, says he’ll be having conversations with Rose and his attorneys about the possibility.

• John Crawford, Jr., the father of the young man shot by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart in August, is still struggling with the incident and the loss of his son, he says in an op-ed published in the Hamilton Journal-News today. John Crawford III lived in neighboring Fairfield. Crawford III, 22, was killed in the Walmart after another shopper called 911 to report him brandishing a weapon. It turned out to be a pellet gun sold in the store. Security footage doesn’t show Crawford handling the toy in a threatening manner, though officers said he was ordered to drop it several times. A grand jury declined to indict Officer Sean Williams, who shot Crawford.

“John lll was an amazing father, loving son and awesome friend,” Crawford, Jr. says in the piece. “He was just starting to discover who he was, what his passion was, what he wanted to pursue in life and now he’s gone. It makes no sense to me how a simple trip to Walmart ended in the death of my son. I was further shocked when a grand jury refused to indict the officer responsible for my son’s slaying. But now, six months after this horrific tragedy, we want the world to know just how much we love and miss him.”

Crawford, Jr. goes on to advocate for new laws that could prevent future tragedies, including new requirements for toy weapons in stores like Walmart. Crawford, who lives in Tennessee, has been active in seeking justice for his son, showing up at rallies, including a recent teach-in in Cincinnati, and filing a lawsuit against the Beavercreek Police Department.

• More about Kasich’s new budget proposal: Under the suggested two-year budget, funding for prison-based addiction services will double, and the state will spend $58 million more on community-based sentencing options that could keep some first time offenders out of prison. These reforms are designed to cut down on Ohio’s prison population and expenditures over time. Studies suggest up to 80 percent of Ohio’s prison population has a history of drug abuse. Currently, only 15 to 20 percent of Ohio inmates receive drug addiction treatment, however.

• Finally, the economy added more than 257,000 jobs last month, according to job reports released today. That marks the 11th straight month job growth has been above 200,000, a streak that hasn’t been seen in more than two decades. In a rare moment of agreement, both the White House (well, duh) and high-ranking GOP officials applauded the news. Of course, the Republican response came with the requisite grousing about how the job gains weren’t good enough.
 
“We're thankful to see that Americans were able to go back to work in January,” said GOP Chairman Reince Priebus. “But before the White House spikes the football, they need to come to terms with a troubling fact: There are millions of Americans who are struggling to find jobs.”

Going unmentioned in the politics is a big cause for concern: Despite growth in the number of jobs available, wages for workers have remained stagnant, meaning that the economic recovery is still tepid and incomplete for many across the country.

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