CINCINNATI – The city plans to spend millions of dollars to put 80 new police officers on the street in the next year and a half, ramp up overtime and resurrect a gang unit to combat a rash of homicides and violent crimes.
The extensive plan includes the first new police recruit class in five years.
"The message to the people is that help is on the way," Mayor John Cranley said Monday.
Cranley said the city followed the same strategy 10 years ago and it worked well until cost-cutting depleted resources.
“When we had more officers, hot-spot overtime, a gang unit, a fully active CIRV and call-ins, we saw homicides going down,” Cranley said. “And, for a variety of reasons, economy primarily, we've seen a defunding of virtually all of those efforts for the last four years, and now we see a huge uptick and it's unacceptable."
The new recruit class could cost $5 million and hiring additional officers another $600,000 in the next budget. Cranley said he and the city council would need to make spending cuts to prioritize public safety.
Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said he could pay for overtime in 2014-15 by using almost $1 million in the department's budget that was designated for filling civilian positions.
The plan calls for beefing up the police force by:
> Hiring 15-20 officers from other departments by June.
> Starting a 60-member recruit class in July. They will have to go through extensive training before they can hit the streets, hopefully within 14 to 15 months, Cranley said.
Sworn staffing for the police department is down 180 since 2008 and stands at a 17-year low of 954, interim city manager Scott Stile wrote in a memo to council.
"There's a critical point -- we've reached that -- where you cannot keep expecting us to continue to police the way we've always policed with the amount of officers we're down," said Fraternal Order of Police President Kathy Harrell.
In addition, police plan to immediately:
> Increase patrols in 23 hot spots with the most crime by committing overtime. Those hot spots are in Avondale, Millvale, Mount Airy, Roselawn, Walnut Hiils, West End, West Price Hill and Westwood.
> Develop a full-time Gang Unit with two police sergeants and 10 officers to address gang and group crimes.
"We are going to strategically go after those street segments and the players that operate on those streets in open-air drug markets and violent criminal gang behavior," Blackwell said.
Roughly 30 blocks of the city account for 15 percent of all violent crimes and 10 percent of homicides and need to be targeted, Blackwell said.
"I think it's imperative that we think outside the box here at CPD and not just put all of our resources into answering 911 calls and investigating violent crime," Blackwell said.
"We need to be proactive and even preventive in our efforts."
The city has already seen 11 homicides this year, about double the number for the same period last year.
At a rate of 11 per month, the city would have 132 homicides this year. Last year, there were 75 and that was a 42 percent increase from 2012.
Also present at the announcement were University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, members of city council and community leaders fed up with crime.
Ono has asked police and judges to help combat the increase in robberies and other crimes around campus.
Council's law and public safety committee immediately began hearings on the plans to make sure they're in place as soon as possible.
The plan also calls for more community involvement by:
> Allocating police resources and reinstituting partnerships with CIRV (Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence), a collaborative effort between police and the community.
> Working with at-risk youth to revitalize crime prevention strategies.
There was noticeable excitement from the leaders and CIRV street workers, who can't wait to get out and spread the word among criminals that you either change your life or get caught.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld commented on Facebook about the plan before the press conference.
The city’s 10th and 11th homicides of 2014 took place last weekend.
Police said 20-year-old Curtiss Hill Jr. was found shot to death Saturday in Evanston. Steven Gilbert, 34, was found with multiple gunshot wounds Friday night and died at University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Homicide in Cincinnati: 2013 and 2014
According to police data, there were six homicides in the city through the end of January in 2013.
In addition to the fatal shootings, two robberies and a shooting were also reported near the UC campus Sunday. The shooting victim suffered non-life-threatening wounds.