UC ambassadors beef up neighborhood safety

CINCINNATI – University of Cincinnati has hired a team of five "ambassadors" to patrol the Short Vine and U Square districts near campus as part of an ongoing effort to reduce crime in the area.

The Block by Block Safety Ambassadors program is modeled after a similar downtown patrol, a highly visible group that keeps an eye out for trouble, offers assistance to visitors and cleans up litter.

UC's group will patrol 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. daily east and south of campus, particularly along Short Vine and in the U Square area – the new restaurant and retail development along Calhoun and McMillan streets.

“The purpose is not to replace additional police patrols, which have been effective in reducing violent incidents off campus, but rather to supplement these policing efforts,” Interim Public Safety Director Robert Ambach said.

The university has been grappling with ways to respond to some high-profile crimes in recent months on and around campus, including armed robberies and assaults. President Santa Ono and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell co-authored a letter last November to Hamilton County judges requesting they issue more stern sentences to accused criminals targeting UC students .

In January, UC tripled its night patrols to six from two to combat crime .

News of the ambassador patrols was welcomed by Yogi Higgins, kitchen manager of Mio's Pizzeria on Short Vine.

"I think it's great," he said. "Crime is always a big problem, and whatever we can do to eliminate most of the crime, let's do it."

Higgins said he has noticed beefed up police patrols in the neighborhood, with cruisers passing by the restaurant every 10 minutes or so and foot patrols supplementing them.

Some residents in the CUF neighborhoods – short for Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview – also welcomed the patrols but lamented the limited patrol area.

"The 'Safety Ambassador' program sounds like a positive step by UC and demonstrates that the university understands it has a role in the quality of life of its surrounding neighborhoods," said Sam Kerr, a CUF resident. "However, the program seems limited to certain areas of the neighborhood and misses large areas where students reside off campus."

Juliet Zavon, a CUF resident, said, “While one hopes that any extra patrolling will help reduce crime, it's not likely to be effective if it's in the wrong place. UC's emphasis on short Vine and U-square misses the areas where reported muggings have increased most, on residential streets a bit further south.”

Ambach could not be immediately reached to address the questions regarding which areas are patrolled by the ambassadors. 

The ambassadors are employees of Block by Block, LLC, which has 66 programs in 27 states.

UC’s crew will be led by Operations Manager Michael Myers, a Marine Corps veteran who has experience in law enforcement and other safety and security companies, according to UC.

He’ll manager Team Leader Markita Coach and Safety Ambassadors Mandy Hughes, Kenneth Robinson, Glen Comstock and Eric Long.

“The ambassadors selected for our team were hand-picked from a pool of more than 100 applicants and were selected based on their personalities as well as their backgrounds,” Ambach said. “They are all customer service driven.”

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