Thursday, December 26, 2002

Homicides match last year's 63

Highest number in 15 years attributed to drugs

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati's latest homicide victim is the city's 63rd of the year, matching 2001's 14-year record high.

Cortez Blassingame, 27, no address available, was shot to death near Kentucky Avenue and Carlin Street in Northside late Christmas Eve. Police are seeking a group of teenagers in connection with his death.

His killing puts the city's homicide tally where it was for all of last year. Before last year, there hadn't been this many killings in Cincinnati since 1987, when nursing home aide Donald Harvey's multiple victims boosted the total to 66.

This summer, Chief Tom Streicher said he was hopeful homicides wouldn't increase this year - 23 people had been killed during the months of March, April and May alone, but the pace slowed after that with 13 victims in the following three months.

But two recent days with multiple victims since then pushed the total higher. The tally jumped by three in one day alone - Nov. 26, when two men were shot to death and a third died of injuries from a Nov. 23 beating. In another in Westwood last month, a woman and her boyfriend were shot by a man she used to date. He then turned the gun on himself, leaving two homicide victims and one suicide in one day.

It's a climbing number city and police officials have been watching. They're concerned about it, but they also say there's just not much that can be done except to focus on drugs, the common thread in most of the deaths.

"Preventive homicide patrols don't exist,'' said Capt. Vince Demasi, acting commander of the Cincinnati Police Department's investigations bureau. "They would be nice, but how can you prevent a homicide?''

The best thing law enforcement can do, he said, is focus on street-level drugs, the most common factor in the killings.

He points to a sweep in mid-November as evidence the department is doing that: Officers from vice, the Street Corner drug unit and patrol arrested 51 people for drugs and/or soliciting prostitution. They recovered more than 2,400 grams of marijuana and 20 grams of cocaine.

He also said the problem isn't just a law enforcement one, but a societal problem that won't stop until there's more drug treatment for people who need it and more jail time for people arrested.

Among those arrested in that drug/prostitution investigation was Timothy Jordan, 21, of Millvale. He approached undercover officers to try to buy crack, Capt. Demasi said, while holding a 1-year-old baby. When the officers identified themselves, he said, Mr. Jordan put the baby down, jumped in the Mill Creek and tried to escape by swimming away. He was arrested on the other side.

"That's the kind of desperation we're talking about,'' Capt. Demasi said. "This is not just a police problem.''

Cincinnati's rate of homicides closed by arrest has improved even as the numbers continue to rise.

Of the 61 cases as of Nov. 27, 25 had been closed with arrests, a 40 percent closure rate. Detectives were in the process of presenting another five cases to Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen's office. With indictments in those, the rate would rise to almost 50 percent.

Nationally, arrest rates are declining. In 1976, 79 percent of homicide cases across the country resulted in arrests, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Homicide Trends in the United States. In 2000, that number decreased to 63 percent.

At the same time, the causes have changed. Fewer deaths resulted from domestic disputes, more from drug and gang connections.

The closer the connection to drugs, the more difficult a homicide is to solve, Capt. Demasi said.

"We have great reluctance on the parts of a lot of witnesses,'' he said. "It's almost to the point that you have to get subpoenas to make people come to court to testify.''

"Life,'' Capt. Demasi said, "is very, very cheap right now.''


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