Can Cincinnati really handle more new cops, when the ones it already has have caused so much trouble?
That's the biggest question left unanswered in city council's rush to hire 75 more police officers.
An increase in violent crime this year requires additional staffing, according to Police Chief Tom Streicher, who spoke Dec. 17 to council's Finance Committee. Violent crimes mean more officer time spent at crime scenes.
"It's not uncommon to have as many as 50 officers committed to a crime scene when a disaster occurs," Streicher said.
Creation of the Violent Crimes Task Force last summer, consisting of about 75 cops, has also put a strain on officers' availability, according to Streicher. He said the task force has made 2,000 arrests. He did not talk about a police slowdown last summer, and council didn't ask about it.
The city saw about 150 shootings last year, Streicher said. The majority of shootings were not by police officers.
This is worth noting, because the use of force by Cincinnati Police continues to be a major source of conflict in the city.
Council expects a proposed agreement this month from the Cincinnati Police-Community Relations Collaborative, settling a civil-rights lawsuit over racial profiling by Cincinnati Police. The city is still dealing with the U.S. Justice Department on recommendations for better controlling use of force.
But some council members want to make sure the past doesn't repeat itself. Vice Mayor Alicia Reece questioned Streicher on a report in The Cincinnati Enquirer saying the city has faced 137 lawsuits in the past 10 years over police misconduct.
"People make mistakes — they just do," Streicher said.
He said 137 lawsuits out of 10 million contacts between police and citizens in the past 10 years is "acceptable." Reece responded by laughing, saying the numbers might not be acceptable within the city's budget.
Councilman John Cranley proposed hiring more cops last July, but the police chief first supported the idea last month, just before council revised its budget to include the first new hires.
But in listening to Streicher, city council is disregarding both of his superiors. In a November budget update, John Shirey, then city manager, said the city does not need 75 more officers.
"I recommend that the city council reconsider its decision to add 75 police officers, because the city cannot afford them and because the current authorized strength of 1,000 is sufficient," Shirey wrote. "The current size of the division's sworn force compares very favorably with other cities across the country."
If council wouldn't listen to Shirey, it could have turned to Acting City Manager Timothy Riordan or Acting Finance Director William Moller, who also advised council to reconsider the decision to hire 75 more cops.
Councilman David Crowley introduced an unsuccessful motion to drop the new officers from the budget. He asked why Streicher had waited so long to make his opinion known.
According to Streicher, Shirey gave him strict orders that the city didn't need the 75 new cops and "as such directed me not to speak on it publicly."
Now we know of one person who actually listens to the city manager's advice.
Crowley's motion, supported by council members Reece, Minette Cooper and Paul Booth, suggested "the police chief conduct a deployment analysis of the manpower in the police department and comment on what would be the most effective use of manpower."
Crowley also said that in a year of budget adjustments, council should take the savings proposals suggested by the manager's budget and think before enacting policy changes on a number of issues.
Forethought, however, is not a virtue on city council. Businesses are closing because people are afraid to go downtown, and the time to hire police is now, according to Cranley.
"I don't think we can afford not to do it," he said. "This city has a few years to turn itself around and to send a clear message."
But some would say the message is already clear; what is missing are research, analysis and planning.