Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell outlines factors, strategies to combat violence

Series of engagement initiatives set for 2014

CINCINNATI – The weapon of choice has changed from fists to bullets in Cincinnati.

By far, the handgun was the weapon of choice in the city’s 75 homicides in 2013. Sixty-one victims (81.3 percent) where shot to death. It’s troubling to Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, who is nearing his first 100 days at the helm of a department grappling with a 42 percent increase in homicides compared to 2012. Blackwell, who was hired on a platform of community engagement, believes this year’s new engagement strategies will curb homicide in 2014.

Cincinnati ended 2013 drenched in fear that, in many parts of the city, no one is safe from gunfire.

“The next homicide has already been talked about,” Blackwell said. “We can get in front if we build relationships. If kids will say, ‘You know what, I’m hearing that Pookie, he’s on Facebook, talking about he’s shooting Dede.”

Blackwell said citizens can expect a reduction in violent crime and homicides in 2014 in part because of a wide variety of initiatives to engage teens and the community at large.

“It’s never going to full go away (violence), but we certainly are going to have an impact here. I guarantee you,” Blackwell promised.

Factors Affecting Violence

Blackwell attributes the 2013 violence to factors including illegal guns brought into the city and the drug trade, specifically the rising popularity of heroin.

The chief referred to a lack of tolerance for perceived “disrespect” and “lack of sincere care for the sanctity of human life,” when turf war violence erupts on the streets among drug-dealing gangsters. Mental health issues also contribute to the violence, he said.

“A lot of homicides committed by young people can be traced back to using,” he said.

Blackwell also cited a need for more officers so he can have the flexibility to move resources. He also expressed frustration over unwillingness of citizens to give information following crimes that took place in their midst.

“I think as we strengthen our ties in the community, you have an impact. We erode the no-snitch mentality, Blackwell said. “You take away some of the anonymity gangsters and thugs have, that impacts their ability to operate in an environment where they can pretty much do whatever in the hell they want to do.”

Hoops for Hope

Blackwell orchestrated the Midnight Basketball program in the early 1990s during his days in Columbus, an initiative, which he said was a “stopgap mechanism” at the time, to interrupt gang-related violence. The idea was to invite young people to play basketball in the evening hours in hopes of keeping them off the street.

The chief insisted the Hoops for Hope campaign is not an importation of an old idea, but “has far more depth now.” Scheduled to officially kick of on Friday, Jan. 31, with the first games scheduled for Friday, Feb. 7,

Blackwell intends to use basketball as a way to lure young people into the program.

During each session, and before any basketball games start, teens and young people will be required to attend conflict-resolution, character training and financial literacy workshops. The sessions are tentatively scheduled to run from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

“What we’re going to do is bring a program that affects life change for young people,” Blackwell said. “Basketball is the hook that gets them involved, but the rub is the life skills training.”

Mixing 10 to 12 year olds with older teens will provide a wholesome environment with mentors and tutors – extensions of their parents they may or may not have, Blackwell argued.

“Kids become what they see, not what they hear, so if we can bring in some young kids who are at the cusp of making decisions that impact the rest of their life in the same building with other bigger kids that have, quite frankly, already made poor decisions and they see a redemption happening, that will be profound,” Blackwell said.

Expansion of Police Explorer program

Blackwell plans on expanding the existing Police Explorer program to become a formalized curriculum-based program. In its current form, the Explorer program supports police and city personnel on occasion.

The chief wants the program to prepare Explores to become police officers. After about one year, exemplary Explorers will be paid employees of the department, and after another year, they will be guaranteed a place in the next police academy recruit class, Blackwell said. Blackwell anticipates a new recruit class in the coming years, but sees the Explorer program as an efficient breading ground for enthusiastic cops.

“What better way to get highly trained, energized kids that love this organization because they’ve proven it for three years?” Blackwell said.

For Blackwell, the years between 18 and 21 are critical.

“I call them the ‘bewitching years,’” Blackwell said. “They’re out of high school and not old enough to be a cop, and invariably, I’ve seen it happen in my 26 years, they get into some kind of trouble, which precludes them from ever becoming a police officer.”

Town Hall Meetings

Blackwell has scheduled five

town hall meetings at locations peppered throughout the city’s five police districts. The meetings, the first of which is scheduled for Wednesday in District 3, are intended to gather information from citizens so police officials can craft strategic planning efforts this year.

In addition to the chief, all three assistant chiefs – Lt. Cols. Paul Humphries, Dave Bailey and James Whalen – will attend as well as all police captains.

They’re expecting 100 to 200 people at each meeting.

The meeting schedule:

  • District 1 and Central Business Section: Thursday, Jan. 9, at the River of Life Church, 2000 Central Pkwy.
  • District 2: Tuesday, Jan. 21, at Medpace, Inc., 5375 Medpace Way
  • District 3: Wednesday, Jan. 8, at the Elder High School Schaeper Center, 3900 Vincent Ave.
  • District 4: Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the Church of the Resurrection, 1619 California Ave.
  • District 5: Monday, Jan. 13 at the Little Flower Church, 5560 Kirby Ave.

For more stories by Kareem Elgazzar, visit www.wcpo.com/elgazzar . Follow him on Twitter at @ElgazzarBLVD

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