CINCINNATI - Cincinnati Police say they hope Tuesday's arrest of 17 suspected members of the Tot Lot Posse gang can provide vital information to solve numerous cold cases of violent crime in the West End.
An 18-month joint federal, state and local investigation of the gang resulted in indictments against 27 individuals on drug and weapons charges.
Five teams comprised of members of the Cincinnati Police Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives fanned out over Hamilton County to make the arrests. Westwood, the West End, Cheviot, North College Hill and Mount Airy were among the communities searched by officers and agents. Ten suspects were still being sought late Tuesday.
"The group that has been brought down has been terrorizing the West End and other parts of the City of Cincinnati for far too long," said Mayor Mark Mallory during a news conference at Cincinnati Police headquarters to announce the arrests.
Forty-one weapons seized during the investigation were laid out on a long conference table. They included rifles and handguns, both automatic and semi-automatic.
Lt. Col. James Whalen picked up one of the pistols and said it had been stolen from a retired Kentucky State Police Trooper in Southern Kentucky.
"This was taken during a theft offense in his home during the afternoon and that evening we acquired it in our neighborhoods," said Lt. Col. Whalen. "It was just that quick."
The roots of the investigation stemmed from a spike in violent crime in the West End in 2008. Lt. Col. Whalen said a statistical analysis of 125 felonious assaults involving firearms and homicides in District One showed that 20 percent of the offenses involved alleged Tot Lot Posse members as victims or suspects. That included the murders of two women -- one in front of her child and another who was an innocent bystander.
Seven members of the gang were arrested on murder and weapons counts and nine open murder cases might be linked to the group, according to Lt. Col. Whalen.
The response from CIRV -- the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence -- was to conduct drug and gun purchases and file severe charges against gang members.
"The individuals that are impacted today are now sitting in various holding facilities," Lt. Col. Whalen said. "They got the message and will be physically removed from the program and we won't have to worry about them so much."
It's hoped that the long prison charges the suspected Tot Lot Posse members are facing will cause them to start talking and provide clues about unsolved crimes in the West End. When members of the Taliband gang were nabbed in Northside, violent crime decreased 50 percent.
City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. said the roundup is a prime example of POP, Problem Oriented Policing, that emerged from the Collaborative Agreement in 2001. However, he said that members of a community where violence is occurring have to be patient and let the investigations run their course.
"An 18 month investigation means that people in the neighborhood have had to experience some negative activity over that period of time and some times they wonder what we're doing about it," said Dohoney. "Today's culmination shows what we're doing about it. We're trying to be thorough. It takes time to do that."
"The violent groups of individuals in this city who persist in gun violence are simply self-selecting themselves for law enforcement attention," said Lt. Col. Whalen.
Tuesday's arrests are designed to carry a message that Cincinnati will not tolerate gun violence and that the shooting and killings must stop, according to CIRV Director Greg Baker.
Baker added they'll hopefully motivate individuals still engaged in criminal conduct to think outside the box.
"The boxes that I'm referring to are prison cells, jail cells and boxes that are six feet under," said Baker, adding that CIRV offers services such as Talbert House, employment counseling, mentoring and life coaching. All people have to do is call the CIRV hotline at (513) 633-3800.
Brandt Schenken, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Columbus Field Division, said the joint operation is a great example of law enforcement cooperation to remove violent criminals from the streets of Cincinnati.
"Violence is a way of life for gangs," said Schenken. "Each day of their lives they engage in gun trafficking, drug dealing and violence. That is their trade and the main tool of their trade is the firearm."
"ATF takes violent crimes seriously," he added. "We are putting armed criminal behind bars and taking the guns out of their hands."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Parker said many of the suspects arrested face a minimum of 10 years in prison if they're convicted -- longer if conspiracy charges are proven.
"The message is clear," said Parker. "We all share a commitment of ameliorating gun violence and other criminal activity here in Cincinnati."
Lt. Col. Whalen added that the arrests put a real dent in the hierarchy of the Tot Lot Posse, which