CINCINNATI - A 54 percent jump in homicide is fueling an uptick in violent crime in Cincinnati during the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.
That troubling trend has some leaders wondering privately if the downturn in crime last year was an anomaly, while others are concerned if the trend continues Cincinnati will log its most murderous year since 2008.
Through the end of June, 37 people were slain in Cincinnati, and if the current rate continues, the total could reach 74 by year’s end. In 2012, there was a total of 53 homicides. In 2008, 73 people were slain.
The all-time record of 89 was set in 2006.
“We haven’t hit those levels, but we’re approaching them,” said Interim Police Chief Paul Humphries. “We’re at a level now that everything is guns, and 20 years ago, it was a fist-fight on the corner where the winner went to jail and loser went to the hospital.
“Now, it’s over stuff that people didn’t shoot each other before – you looked at my girlfriend, you sat on my car.”
Serious Crime Is Down Overall
Serious crime reported to Cincinnati police , which include crimes of violence coupled with property crimes, is down by 6 percent during the first six months of this year compared to the first half of 2012. And over a two-year span, serious crime has dropped by 14 percent.
But it's the crimes of violence - homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults – that grab headlines, lead evening newscasts and impact the public's perception of the safety of a city.
The increase is a key focus of the Cincinnati Police Department.
“This is not just the 'Spring spike,' it’s a trend now," Humphries said. "The thing you will see as long as I’m chief here is that our efforts are going to be deployed and designed around data analysis.
"This isn't going to be like 2003 when we send 50 cops into a neighborhood and arrest 100 people because of a spike in crime,'' he said. “It does no good, I’m not picking a fight with our community, I’m going after bad guys.”
Procedural changes implemented earlier this month will change the way officers handle minor vehicle crashes, false alarm calls and offense reports. For instance, instead of filling out an accident report for every crash in which both vehicles are operable, officers may now file a crash report at their discretion.
The hope is to free up 15,000 to 18,000 officer hours to focus them on fighting violent crime, Humphries said.
“That wasn’t simply because we said ‘we have a lot of auto accidents and we don’t really need to go,’” Humphries said. “I have a finite amount of cops, and limited resources and how do I apply those resources to address what is facing our city right now, which is violent crime.
“I need to need to free up some time.”
'Pitbull On a Bone'
Crime statistics show the number of this year's trend is comparable with the 67 slayings recorded in 2011 and the 72 killings recorded in 2010 and that 2012 may have been an anomaly.
This year has been busy for the city's 16 homicide investigators, who work in teams of two.
“We’re asked to do more with less, we have to be as efficient as possible,” said Homicide Unit Lt. Bridget Bardua, adding she did not know why 2012 was a low year for homicides.
In April and May the homicide unit investigated 16 homicides over an eight-week span. At one point from May 20 to 27, the unit opened five new homicide investigations.
“These guys are like a pitbull on a bone, they treat all cases equally,” Bardua said. “The first hours after a homicide are the most crucial, even if that means my guys stay on for 36 to 40 hours straight. They will stay on and exhaust all possible leads before slowing down the investigation.”
Detectives have managed a 55 percent clearance rate this year, which is slightly better than last year. A homicide is considered cleared when a suspect has been arrested or charged. A homicide is also considered clear if the suspect dies or if the prosecutor declines to accept a case for prosecution.
Humphries said the department is exploring new equipment for the department's crime scene investigators, who piece together physical evidence. He declined to offer specific details.
“We are looking at staffing across city units, but I need to see how the differential response [procedural changes] shake out and see if there’s a way I can pluck a couple of cops and move them around,” Humphries said.
Where Cincinnati Homicides Occurred
During the first six months of 2013, Cincinnati Police District 3 recorded the most homicides and had closed the most cases. Hover over each crime for details of the victims and status of the case in this interactive graphic.
(Mobile users use this link to access graphic: http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/2013crime/DistrictBreakdown?:embed=y&:display_count=no)
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Serious crime reported to police in the Central Business District was down by 31 percent compared to last year, but reports of violent crimes were up 16 percent.
Driving the violent crime numbers were aggravated assaults. There was a 200 percent increase compared to last year, 12 this year compared to four.
Burglary, auto thefts, personal thefts and thefts from vehicles have drastically reduced and CBD District Capt. Paul Broxterman credits a more enhanced police presence downtown.
“We’re very attentive to downtown as we know a safe and clean downtown is paramount for the vitality of the area,” Broxterman said.
In his time as commander over the last month, Broxterman said violent crime is down more than 50 percent compared to the previous four weeks. He was transferred from District 2 in late May.
Crime In District 1
In the first six months of this year, aggravated assaults were up by 20 percent throughout the district. More specifically, aggravated assaults jumped by 33 percent in Over-the-Rhine – 40 aggravated assaults compared to 30 for the same time period last year.
There have been three homicides compared to one last year. But reported incidents of rape, robbery, burglary, theft and vehicle theft were all down.
Over a two-year span, violent crime dropped by 26 percent and homicides by 64 percent.
Shootings throughout District 1, which includes Over-the-Rhine, the West End, Queensgate, Pendleton and Mount Adams, are up nearly 38 percent compared to same time period last year.
District 1 Capt. Gary Lee said much of the violence involves street drug traffickers targeting other traffickers. Police call it “crime-on-crime” opportunities, which result in a cycle of retaliation, he said.
“If you’re going to engage in a risky lifestyle, you run the risk of being exposed to violence,” Lee said.
Police brief Peter Hames, president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, monthly on crime trends in the area and said he’s been aware of the spike in violent crime for some time.
“There was certainly a lot of satisfaction last year but it’s disappointing to hear that this year,” Hames said. “Police will tell you that’s it’s really the residents who ultimately make police work successful because they tend to be where some of these crimes are committed.”
More often than not, witnesses or even victims of crimes do not come forward for fear of retaliation, Lee said.
“I have some sympathy for folks on both sides of the issue – I’d be very careful, too, if my life or my family’s was in danger, but what a paradox and what a dilemma to be faced with,” Hames said.
Serious Crime in Cincinnati
Serious crime, defined as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, theft, burglary, auto theft and theft from auto, reported to police dropped by 6 percent in Cincinnati through June compared to the first six months of last year. See the breakdown of each in this interactive graphic.
(Mobile users can access the graphic here: http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/2013crime/CrimesBreakdown?:embed=y&:display_count=no)
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Crime In District 2
Incidents in every violent crime category reported to police in District 2 were up, with rape reports showing the largest increase of 56 percent. Violent crime was up 22 percent. But similarly to citywide data, property crimes dipped by 10 percent.
District 2 is the largest police district in the city and covers Evanston, East Walnut Hills, O'Bryonville, Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Oakley, Madisonville, Kennedy Heights, Pleasant Ridge, East End, Columbia-Tusculum, Linwood, Mount Washington and California.
Oakley reported the largest number of violent crimes so far this year with 259. Evanston has chalked up eight aggravated assaults this year, two of which were fatal. In January, Terrance Womack, 16, was shot and killed after leaving the Evanston Recreation Center. In April, police found 17-year-old Jordan Dawson shot in the 1600 block of Hewitt Avenue.
Police have not made arrests in either killing. District 2 Capt. Jeff Butler was not available for comment.
Crime In District 3
One-third of the city's slaying have happened in District 3 - a spike of 86 percent. District 3 covers East Price Hill, West Price Hill, Lower Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Millvale and Moosewood, North Fairmount, South Fairmount, Riverside, Saylor Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, Roll Hill and Westwood.
The neighborhoods of Westwood, East Price and South Fairmount have each seen three killings each this year.
Every violent crime category in District 3 – homicide, rape, aggravated assaults and robbery – posted double-digit increases. Property crime, as with every other district, was down but by only 1 percent. Auto theft saw a 23 percent jump. Westwood, one of the largest neighborhoods in the city, reported 59 auto thefts compared to 44 last year.
Crime In District 4
The only district to report a dip in homicides was District 4, which stretches from Mount Auburn north to Hartwell. Six killings occurred in the district, compared with nine last year. The overall number of violent crimes reported in the district was unchanged.
There was one more rape case reported in the first half of 2013, but over a two-year span, reports of rape increased 21 percent. In Bond Hill, for instance, nine people reported they were raped, compared to one report during the same time frame last year.
Avondale reported the highest number of violent crimes in the district with 423 - but no homicides.
Crime In District 5
Residents in District 5 experienced an 8 percent decrease in violent crime and a 10 percent decrease in overall crime. Every crime category reported decreases, with the exception of homicide and theft from vehicles.
In University Heights, the neighborhood around the University of Cincinnati, there were 113 reports of thefts, representing a 30 percent increase to last year.