Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Team targets trouble areas

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Three Cincinnati police officers shot at in a week. Federal attorneys digging deep into the police division's conduct. A dramatic upswing in shootings..

        Next week, Cincinnati will begin to see how Police Chief Tom Streicher attacks the violence he has described as among the worst and most persistent he has seen in his 30-year career.

Complete coverage in our special section.
        He goes on the offensive with his new task force, a team of 70 officers who will flood neighborhoods such as Over-the-Rhine that have been plagued by violence. At least 77 people have been shot in 59 separate incidents since the April riots — largely attributed to drug and gang activity.

        The new team comes at the same time that activists advocating a boycott of the city have renewed their call for Chief Streicher to be fired. He has been at the helm of the 1,020-officer Cincinnati Police Division for almost 2 1/2 years; city officials have said removing him from the position would not accomplish anything.

        Chief Streicher expects the task force to spend a day in a training and strategy session Tuesday, then start work Wednesday. Members will work undercover as well as in high-profile, uniform patrols — “it just depends on what the commanders think a particular area needs,” he says.

        The chief talked recently with The Enquirer about these and other issues.

        QUESTION: You've said you expect the task force to get started early next week. How did you come up with the idea for it?

ANSWER: I thought about it a lot while I was on vacation. I knew we needed to do something. It was just a matter of what. It comes from 30 years of listening and watching. We have to get a handle on things. And we will.

        (Task force members) will be hand-picked. They're some of our best. And these people can set the tone for the rest of the agency.

        Q: You're careful to always say the task force will work throughout the city. But won't the first real focus be in Over-the-Rhine and the West End?

A: A lot of it will be. But other places have been affected too — Avondale, Bond Hill and others. And the task force will have to be fluid and evolve, because we know once we put pressure on an area, we're going to move people. We're going to have to follow them.

        People in some areas will notice a very visible police presence. Some areas might not see much, but then maybe we'll sweep in with a bunch of drug indictments and make arrests. It depends on the kinds of things that are going on in each neighborhood.

        Q: What is your take on the so-called slowdown by officers? (Arrests are down 35 percent.)

A: There's some misunderstanding of it, some of it from the media. It's not that officers aren't doing their jobs. They are. We're making arrests every day. Good arrests.

        It's the nosey kind of policing that's not being done as much. That's an easy way to put it for people to understand. It's when the radio's not squawking. It's the walking around and being nosey kinds of things.

        But there's a tremendous sense of permissiveness that's out there. Obviously, the bad guys know that police aren't doing some of the nosey kind of police work. They know when there's not a lot of heat on them. There was a feeling of empowerment by some of the criminal element after the riots.

        Q: Do you see an end to that, now that Mayor Charlie Luken and others at City Hall have expressed support?

A: The cops need to hear that support; they need to know it. There's some shell-shock that's been happening over the past few months. Here, it has even more drastically affected the cops because of the criminal and the “patterns and practices” investigations by the federal government.

        I'm not the one policing the street; I'm not the one out there. From me they have to hear encouragement. And they do. I also have to work with the union, because the union members listen to their union president.

        There's a balance between crisis management and normal management of a police agency. Things still aren't normal.

        Q: In the midst of all these issues, you're also about to face budget cuts. —What's that going to mean?

A: I really don't know yet. But most, maybe 90 percent, of the budget is controlled outside the police division. For things like salaries, that's our biggest piece. And we have a certain number of cars we have to buy every year. So we have very little discretion on those things.

        They're talking $2 million to $5 million (in cuts through 2002). That's a lot. There are different types of things that might have to be put on hold for a while.

        That's the most difficult part of planning for police services. You never know what the need is going to be. You can project out, but you can never know. Then you can have something like we did in April.

        Q. You picked 28 new recruits last week for the division's 91st recruit class, which will start in August. Given what's going on, what were you thinking as you did that?

A: Nothing different than I would any time we pick them. You just have to go through them and look at every aspect of them.


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