Thursday, July 12, 2001

Task force will fight epidemic of violence

Six shootings within 24 hours brings response

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After a night of violence that saw six people shot, the Cincinnati Police Division is forming a violent crimes task force that will target neighborhoods where the bullets have flown.

        “We are extremely concerned,” Police Chief Tom Streicher said Wednesday at a City Hall press conference called by Mayor Charlie Luken. “It has to stop.”

[photo] Mayor Charlie Luken (center) said at a news conference Wednesday that Cincinnatians should be kind to police officers because of the pressure they are working under. With him are FOP president Keith Fangman, (left), and Police Chief Tom Streicher.

(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Details of how the task force will operate are sketchy, but Chief Streicher said it might involve 60 to 75 officers and would be modeled after the police division's robbery task forces that have clamped down on crime during holiday seasons in recent years.

        Police say violence has escalated in some of Cincinnati's black neighborhoods, particularly in Over-the-Rhine, since the April rioting that followed the shooting death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas by a Cincinnati police officer.

        One man was killed, five people were injured and two police officers were shot at, but not injured, in a series of unrelated shootings Monday and early Tuesday. All except one were in Over-the— Rhine.

        Chief Streicher said the task force would work with “people on the streets” and community leaders in coming up with a plan on how to deal with the violence.

        “That could mean more police visibility on the streets, or it could mean more surveillance or undercover work,” Chief Streicher said. “Whatever it takes, we'll do it.”

        Dale Mallory, the newly elected president of the West End Community Council, where some of the violence in recent months has occurred, said his group will be working with police to organize a “block watch” that might help police prevent acts of violence.

        “This violence does not just concern police; it concerns people who live in the neighborhood, too,” Mr. Mallory said.

        Keith Fangman, president of the Queen City Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said 70 people have been shot in Cincinnati in 56 separate incidents since the April rioting. At the same time, the number of arrests made by Cincinnati police officers has been going down.

        The reduction in the number of arrests, Mr. Fangman said, is the result of a “shell-shocked” police force afraid of being sued by citizens or lambasted in the media if they have to use force making arrests.

        “With all the negativity that's out there about the police, officers feel handcuffed,” Mr. Fangman said. “Who can blame a police officer for being hesitant or fearful?”

        In a gun battle early Tuesday in Over-the-Rhine, Officer Thomas Haas returned fire repeatedly at a suspect who ran through streets and alleys. With Officer Haas, a nine-year veteran and training officer, was Officer Arnold Walker, who has been out of the police academy only a month.

        Another officer, Rob Shircliff, came to help and was shot at, too. Officers Haas and Shircliff were the second and third Cincinnati officers to be shot at in a week.

        Deangelo Williams, 34, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, felonious assault and aggravated robbery. He shook his head in disagreement Wednesday morning in court as the judge read the charges against him. He remained in the Hamilton County Justice Center under $2.4 million bond.

        Mr. Luken and a half dozen City Council members used the news conference to plead with Cincinnati residents to support the police and help stop the violence.

        “Cincinnatians now must stand up and take back our streets,” Mr. Luken said.

        Cincinnatians, Mr. Luken said, should understand the pressure police officers are working under.

        “Acts of kindness to police officers in the street would be appropriate at this time,” Mr. Luken said.

        Former Hamilton County Judge Leslie Isaiah Gaines was at the news conference to talk about the group of anti-violence activists he formed to walk the streets of Over-the-Rhine each day since the April rioting.

        Mr. Gaines said he is trying to talk to young people to “make them understand that nothing good comes of violence.”

        “I had one young man on the street tell me that since we had been walking the neighborhood, people haven't been shooting to kill; they've just been shooting at legs to wound people,” Mr. Gaines said.

        “I said, "That's good, young brother, but it's not enough. You have to stop the violence altogether.'”

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