Friday, July 13, 2001

Police veterans will lead task force against violence

Drugs, robberies and weapons are likely to be initial targets

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two veteran Cincinnati police supervisors will spearhead the department's new task force against violence, choosing its 60-some members and getting them out on the streets as soon as next week.

        Chief Tom Streicher on Thursday named Capt. Mike Bolte and Lt. Art Frey, each with 25 years' experience, to lead the team formed in response to the six-fold increase in shootings in the city since the April riots.

        The new group likely will start by targeting high drug-trafficking areas, street robberies and weapons offenses, the chief said.

        He said he expects the two men to present him with a plan Tuesday on how they'll pull together officers from the five districts, investigations, and drug and gang units. He also told them to involve community council leaders, residents and business owners so the team stays focused on the issues important to the neighborhoods.

        “We know it's starting out as a crime-fighting unit,” Chief Streicher said. “But at some point, we're going to have to restore some other kinds of services to these neighborhoods. People need to be involved.”

        Capt. Bolte, 47, is a night chief. Chief Streicher said he chose him because “he knows what goes on out there at night. He's been out at almost all of these critical incidents. He knows.”

        Lt. Frey, 50, commands Operation Street Corner, the 1,020-officer division's drug unit.

        Chief Streicher said the team leaders will decide how many officers they think they need. He tossed out the number 60, but said the team could evolve to include 100 officers “if we decide we need to throw more manpower at it.”

        The team members will spend a day at the police academy — possibly late next week — studying analyses of crime patterns and trends, listening to the experiences of officers who work in the most violent areas and planning strategy, said Ted Schoch, academy director.

        “We want to give them a handle on these things so they can know better what to look for,” Mr. Schoch said. “We'll be talking to them a lot about officer safety, too. That has clearly been an issue lately.”

        The chief announced the new task force Wednesday at a press conference Mayor Charlie Luken called to express the city's support for its police officers and to ask citizens to get involved and help quell the violence.

        The briefing was held three hours after the latest of more than 50 shooting incidents since the unrest — a huge increase over the eight incidents during the same period last year.

        Three officers were shot at between July 4 and July 10. They were not hurt, but longtime members of the police division can remember no time where officers were so frequently forced to take cover from flying bullets.

        The rank-and-file supports the task force plan, Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman said, although some are concerned about how it will drain other police services.

        “Everyone agrees, including our officers, we must take control of our streets,” the union leader said. “We are prepared to do that as long as the mayor and City Council keep their word that they will publicly defend reasonable use of force.”

        Many members likely will come from already established CAT (Criminal Apprehension Teams), which operate in each district. They're small groups of hand-picked officers. They target whatever issue their supervisor deems as needing a targeted effort.

        Examples: in District 4 now, it's drugs; in District 1, sometimes it's car break-ins, sometimes fugitive searches.

        An example of CAT team work:

        Wednesday night in Bond Hill, members of the District 4 unit arrested a man at California Avenue and Reading Road, one of the district's most problematic drug corners.

        A white undercover officer approached the suspected dealer, who threatened to kill the “white boy.” The undercover officer left, calling for help. Officers in uniform arrived, chasing Anthony Arnold, 19, initially for the racial slurs. Then, searching him, they found 18 rocks of crack cocaine in his pocket. He faces charges of drug possession and preparation of drugs for sale.

        “That's good work,” said their captain, David Ratliff. “I tell them, "Here's an area I want you to focus on.' And they do.”

        The new team will be somewhat modeled after the division's holiday robbery task force, which has been put in place under various names for at least 15 years, said Lt. Mark Hildebrand, who ran it last year.

        Under the theory that a lot of street robberies around Christmas involved weapons and were prompted by drug issues, the 60 full-time members pulled in from other assignments upped the patrol presence in some areas, bought drugs undercover in others.

        The ones new to the neighborhood could buy drugs because dealers didn't recognize them. Officers also visited businesses to talk about robbery prevention.

        “We saturated an area to try to make a difference,” Lt. Hildebrand said. “Freeing up 60 people is going to be a challenge. I know times are tough right now, but this police division will get it done.”


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