Friday, July 05, 2002

Drug fiends escalate war on city

        Behind an ordinary looking, mirrored-glass window on Burnet Avenue in Avondale, there's a narrow little shop that contains no merchandise, no groceries, no barber's chairs — just phones and computer terminals and locks on the door.

        It's an unlikely place for the front lines in Cincinnati's war on crime — but that's what it is.

        This week, the Avondale Public Safety Task Force office was dark. It was closed to protect the lives of the elderly neighborhood residents who take calls there and report crimes that are as common on the streets outside as flags on the Fourth of July.

Drive-by threat

        According to the rumor that Task Force founder Tom Jones heard, drug dealers had a business meeting and someone offered an idea to make Avondale more user-friendly for the curb-side, crack-buying clientele: a drive-by shooting at the little office on Burnet.

        Someone tipped off a relative who works in the Burnet office, and the threat was passed on to Mr. Jones, who has led the battle against drug crime.

        “It won't stop us,” he vowed. “We will open again.” But for now, he won't take risks with the lives of workers. “I'm really concerned about Burnet Avenue right now. It's really unstable, and there is a lot of hatred focused at me and the people who work there.”

        No wonder. In one eight-month period, Mr. Jones and his task force accounted for more than 600 tips by collecting complaints from local residents and relaying them to police.

        Mr. Jones is no stranger to death threats. He can't even walk down Burnet without being cursed, insulted and threatened. I know. I've heard it. But even he was stunned by the threat to shoot up an office staffed by grandparents from the neighborhoods that have been invaded by drug dealers.

        “The criminals are just taking over, and they're laughing at us,” he said. “I'm really mad about this.”

Like Vietnam

        He's used to fighting the local drug war like a replay of Vietnam: He has the troops on his side — the Cincinnati cops. He has popular support from most of the neighborhood, and growing support from other neighborhoods that are fighting the same battle. But a minority of vocal protesters makes enough noise to paralyze the politicians, and Mr. Jones cannot get the support he needs to win.

        For all the lip-service at City Hall about the need to improve police-community relations, Mr. Jones has the best example going in town — and City Council does nothing to help him. Instead, council members voted down a motion to speed up the closing of a notorious crime magnet on Burnet, Uncle Milt's, where police allege drugs have been sold from the bar.

        Mr. Jones says he will build a bigger coalition. “If we get enough neighborhoods together, we will have a voice that they will have to listen to,” he said.

        This is everyone's battle.

        “Maybe I'm dumb or maybe I'm community-minded for stepping out on the front lines like this,” he said. “But if we pull out now, that will send the wrong message, that they are winning. We don't want to send that message.”

        E-mail: Past columns at


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