CINCINNATI - Residents of a neighborhood known for violence is trying to change its image one step at a time.
Less than 24 hours after 23-year-old Deandre Lewis was found shot to death in a street in Over-the-Rhine, more than a dozen new members of the Citizens on Patrol group hit the streets for the first time.
The citizens watch group also known as "COP" has been around for more than 15 years but the new members who took the streets on Saturday were doing so after graduating from the training program run by the Cincinnati Police Department.
The students have trained for the past three weeks on topics to help them conduct patrols and report hazardous or criminal activity. At the completion of the course, residents received COP shirts and a certificate of completion from the Cincinnati Police Department.
“I am so proud of all my members,” said Officer Princess Davis who runs the program. “They're from all walks of life and bring something different to the table. We're one big community.”
Davis said there the current group of more than 40 students overseeing OTR is the largest yet.
The increase in community involvement comes after residents of Over-the-Rhine held a town hall meeting to talk about how to bring about positive change to the community after a spate of violence.
While OTR has improved its image through new developments in some parts of the neighborhood, many people still see it as a hot spot for crime.
Those beliefs are supported at least in part by a recent report by WCPO Digital that found shootings in the area are up 38 percent compared to 2012.
Between January 1 and July 21 of 2013, there were 494 total serious crimes reported in Over-the-Rhine to Cincinnati police: Three homicides, three rapes, 90 robberies, 46 aggravated assaults, 69 burglaries, 261 thefts and 22 auto thefts. Between January 1 and July 21 of 2012, there were 472 total serious crimes reported to police, according to the Cincinnati Police Department.
But the impassioned volunteer members of the patrol group say they are ready to do what’s necessary to help reclaim their neighborhood and cut down on the crime in the area.
“We love living in OTR and want to make it a safer place," said Michael Hogue who was on patrol in Washington Park on Saturday. "We wanted to give back to the community and this was a great way to get involved.”
Capt. Gary Lee believes additional community involvement is important and will help Cincinnati police battle crime in the neighborhood. He considers members of the group to be "extra resources" for his department.
“COP is a very important part of the police division,” Lee said. “It helps supplement our police. These civilian volunteers become additional eyes and ears on the street for us.”
Lee believes that in addition to their own duties, members of the group will empower other members of the community to feel comfortable reporting crimes.
Hogue said OTR residents have already come to members of the group to report crimes and have expressed their gratitude for what the volunteers want to do for the neighborhood.