As Cincinnati police transfer class takes shape, gang unit moves closer to the streets

Internal interviews underway to fill gang unit

CINCINNATI -- Sixty-nine new police officers stand ready to join the force as the police department gears up to crack down on violent crime.

The new additions -- the first phase in a violence reduction plan announced earlier this year by Mayor John Cranley and Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell -- bring an average of nine years experience to the force and free up enough cops to create a new gang unit.

The key to the influx of new members to the ranks was the approval of lateral transfer or the hiring away of cops from other agencies. In the two weeks after the lateral transfer job was posted in February, interest in the 20 to 25 available spots ballooned.

A total of 171 applications were received, and of those, 91 were found to meet the minimum requirements of two years experience and Ohio Peace Officer certification. That number of 91 was whittled to 69 candidates.

Officials received applications from candidates who reside in all corners of the state, as far away as Cleveland, but also from surrounding areas of Cincinnati, including West Chester Township, Norwood, Blue Ash, Amelia and Loveland, according to city records. Those who become Cincinnati police officers will earn a starting annual base salary of about $53,000 after training.

 

The influx comes at a time when staffing is down to a 17-year low of 951. Police commanders acknowledge that remaining at the status quo won't be enough to quell the uptick in gang violence seen in recent months while continuing to provide other basic services, such as traffic crash reports.

The influx of new members on the force will allow the department to assign experienced street cops to focus on long-term investigations against neighborhood gangs, specifically more nimble youth gangs.

Although Blackwell has said more cops does not directly correlate to a reduction in violence, it does provide more officers for him to move into a gang unit that will be under the supervision of former homicide unit commander Capt. Bridget Bardua, who now oversees the narcotics and vice section.

Gangs have their strongest foothold in some of the poorest areas of the city and with the gangs has come new levels of violence. About 50 gangs and 1,700 affiliated members operate in the city, said Assistant Chief David Bailey, head of the criminal investigations bureau.

Those 50 gangs, however, are different from the kinds of gangs in many metropolitan areas, Bardua said.

“While Cincinnati doesn’t have the sort of gangs, say Los Angeles has, their engagement in the type of activities results in the vast majority of the violence we have on the streets,” Bardua said. “The purpose of the gang unit is to reduce the violence, in a very targeted and calculated way.

“It’s not going to be a Whac-A-Mole bureaucracy,” she said. 

The gang unit will consist of two sergeants and 10 investigators, she said. Half will come from the existing Violent Crime Enforcement Team, which works closely with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

She is currently interviewing and assessing internal candidates to fill the unit.

Instead of district resources tackling gang violence, a dedicated gang unit will take the lead in high-level investigations.

“When we get a gang unit, they would take the lead on some of these enforcement opportunities,” Bailey said. “That way, we don’t have to worry about district personnel working gang issues, pulling them off their work.”

“Some of these people don’t make up traditional gangs. They shift. They work in both large and small groups, but nonetheless they still operate,” Bailey said. “They do crazy stuff at crazy times and we need a unit to jump on it.”

In early February, Cranley pledged an additional $7 million to improve staffing numbers for police, including a 60-member recruit class, a 20 to 25 lateral transfer class and additional overtime spending in Fiscal Year 2015, which begins July 1. Here's how the additional funding break downs:

  • $4.6 million for 60-member recruit class
  • $1.8 million over the next year for a 20- to 25-member lateral transfer class
  • $600,000 for overtime spending

Increasing overtime for officers may help in the short-term, but more officers are needed to slow the reduction in staffing as about 35 officers retire each year, officials said.

Recruits will join a department dealing with a manpower shortage and ongoing calls for greater diversity and to continue building relationships with residents, some of whom harbor inherent skepticism of the police.

“We have not hired a single soul since December 2008,” said police academy commander Capt. Doug Wiesman. “Why is this important? Because we’re hurting and we need staff.”

An abbreviated training curriculum for the lateral transfer class is in the works. Initial plans call for a total of eight weeks of academy training and another eight weeks of field training. Training is schedule to begin on May 12, Wiesman said.

Civilian-to-officer recruit classes usually last 26 weeks with an additional 12 weeks of field

training, Wiesman said. Police officials said that while the candidates engaged in the eight-week abbreviated training are Ohio Peace Officer certified, they’ll be trained under Cincinnati police guidelines, understand Cincinnati police engagement and reporting policies and undergo firearm training with the standard-issued Smith & Wesson 9mm military police handgun.

“Taking a brand new civilian and trying to transform into a fully functional law enforcement officer that doesn’t get themselves killed takes probably about two years,” Weisman said. “But for this, not only is the training shorter, the learning curve is, too.”

WCPO multimedia producer Libby Duebber contributed to this report.

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