Sunday, August 17, 2003

Arrests up, crime down - the boys in blue are back

Peter Bronson

A colorful bar graph of Cincinnati crime statistics looks like a stack of building blocks reflected in a pond.

Below the line, the red, blue and green rectangles drop like sinkholes, showing a sharp decline in arrests last year.

Above the line, they point up like a skyline, showing a steep increase this year.

Arrests are going back up - and crime is going down.

After two years of an unofficial slowdown by demoralized cops, Cincinnati has turned the corner. For the first time since the riots of April 2001, the cops are jumping all over drug thugs and crime.

The reason is not the "historic collaborative" or the CAN Commission or a federal judge. It's not the Justice Department or the monitor. It's not the city manager, the mayor or the you-gotta-be-kidding city council.

The turnaround happened in spite of all that - thanks to Police Chief Tom Streicher.

In January, Streicher decided enough is enough. For nearly five months, he attended meetings with Cincinnati cops twice a week, four hours a day.

The cops vented. They unloaded clips of 9-mm gripes at targets such as city council, the Justice Department and the media.

"I told them, 'Let's get it all out on the table.' They were furious about the way City Council has treated them," he said. "They feel like they have been used as political cannon fodder."

Streicher said the cops' attitude was, "You require us to walk into the mouth of a fire-breathing dragon and then walk out again with no one hurt."

His answer: Get over it and get back on the job.

"I told them we don't get called to the birthday party for cake and ice cream. We get called when the party gets out of control and they fight over the icing and someone gets stabbed with the knife that was used to cut the cake."

Light law enforcement creates "a defiance of policing - the thugs take over and there is no respect for authority," he said. And people get hurt, including cops.

During the latest slowdown, he said, traffic fatalities tripled - and cops are seven times as likely to be involved in a wreck.

"I appealed to their sense of allegiance to their badge and their honor," Streicher said. His cop-humor punch line: "Eat more chicken" - like it or not.

As of last week, Streicher said, arrests are up 8.5 percent for violent crime, 12 percent for non-violent crimes, 33 percent for DUIs, 45 percent for traffic enforcement and 38 percent for drug crimes, compared to a year ago.

"We're still not back to the levels of 2000," he said. "They are still somewhat tentative, wondering 'Gee, what's gonna happen to me?' " if another black suspect gets shot.

But the change is a memo to the region: The city is getting safer again.

Here's something Streicher didn't say, but I will. If the politicians had their way and used Issue 5 to replace him with an outsider chief, cop morale would still be going south.

The good news is that Streicher plans to stick around. "My dad was a cop here, and my intention is to stay here," he said. "I will not leave until this department turns around."

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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