CINCINNATI – Thieves have been busy this fall in Northside.
What began as a smattering of vandalism, thefts and burglaries over the summer has escalated in recent weeks to become more common, even though violent crimes reported to police in Northside have dipped in recent years.
While the brazen shooting of a man at Stephanie’s Hair Options in the middle of the day grabbed headlines and re-focused attention on this eclectic and diverse Cincinnati neighborhood, it is the recent uptick in theft and burglaries that have folks concerned.
While thefts are hardly unheard of here, neighborhood leaders said it's the frequency and boldness of the crime that has them worried.
Alex Parks, who lives on Fergus Street, said he’s been the victim of two car break-ins over the last month while his car was parked outside his front door.
“We haven't lived in Northside long, but we are rehabbing a house we bought a little over a year ago,” Parks said. “We knew moving in that it has pockets of crime like any urban neighborhood, but the number of break-ins and amount of gun violence recently in a neighborhood with so much to offer, and more and more young people moving in and revitalizing it, is really alarming.”
In the half-mile radius from the intersection of Hamilton and Chase avenues in the heart of Northside that is home to burgeoning businesses, restaurants and bars, there have been 21 burglaries, 14 thefts and two breaking and enterings from Sept. 24 through Oct. 24, according to Cincinnati police data. More specifically, in an 11-day span from Sept. 29 to Oct. 9, there were 10 burglaries, three of which occurred on Sept. 29 in the five-hour span from 1 to 6 p.m.
More than half the incidents reported to Cincinnati police in that timeframe were residential burglaries, and a third were thefts.
The previous month, there were 18 burglaries, 17 thefts and four breaking and enterings.
CLICK ON THE POINTS BELOW TO VIEW DETAILS OF PROPERTY CRIMES COMMITTED IN SEPTEMBER 2013
Police Officer Melissa Cummins, the District 5 neighborhood officer assigned to Northside and Spring Grove Village, acknowledged the recent spike in property crimes, saying most of them are committed by teenagers as young as 13 years old. Some incidents have not been reported to Cincinnati police, which is common.
“Unfortunately, these youths don’t have a lot to do – they’ll look in car windows, they look in the windows of people’s home to see if there is anything they can get their hands on,” Cummins said. “If they’re not from Northside, they’re really close in District 5, within 5 miles or a bus ride away.”
Cummins said Cincinnati police has been conducting citywide truancy sweeps over the last two months. In an effort to combat the spike in Northside, Cummins said the truancy sweeps would help quell the increase in property crimes.
Since the sweeps began on Sept. 10, police have arrested 68 juveniles for truancy citywide, a misdemeanor offense, said Cincinnati police Youth Services Unit supervisor Sgt. Olivia Greer-Brown. It does not go on a juvenile's criminal record, she said.
What also concerns Cummins and other police officers is that burglaries can turn violent, particularly if someone is home at the time.
“These kids need to know that people may have weapons in their homes,” Cummins said.
Officers refer teenage offenders to the Youth Services Unit and officers then determine whether the teen is a chronic truant. If not, Youth Services officers notify the child’s parents they were skipping school, Greer-Brown said.
Those deemed chronic truants are sent to juvenile detention and charges are filed, Greer-Brown said. It is then up to police district investigators to determine if the teen is linked to other neighborhood crimes.
“If that’s a common occurrence, we work with the parents to see if there’s something happening on their end to see if the child needs additional social services,” Greer-Brown said.
Quality-of-life issues and youth engagement are among the top priorities for Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, who was sworn in on Sept. 29. In a recent WCPO.com online chat with Blackwell, he again stressed the importance of youth engagement through programs like Midnight Basketball and the Gang Resistance Education and Training program or GREAT.
Quality-of-life policing is a practice of policing a number of minor criminal activities such as loitering, graffiti, public urination, panhandling, littering and unlicensed street vending in public spaces because, Blackwell argues, if left unattended, that may lead to more violent crime.
“We focus a lot of police work on felonious crimes, which is important, but also the majority of people in Cincinnati are affected by the small stuff more than the major stuff,” Blackwell said. “All of those things impact a neighborhood’s quality of life for all the residents.
“When an elderly person can’t safely feel they can go to the corner market and get a pint of milk because of gang loitering, that’s something we should take a look at it.”
Social Media And Its Effect On Public Perception
The Northside Internet discussion board, Nextdoor.com, has been abuzz with crime news lately.
Despite being a useful tool to share information among neighborhood residents, Northside Community Council President Martha Dourson said some of information might be inaccurate.
"While most of it (the posts) are first-hand accounts, it’s a matter of perception being reality,'' she said.
One of the benefits of social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor.com, is that residents are aware and can help each other, she added.
“People are starting to realize they can make a difference and they must make a difference,” Dourson said. “Times are changing, drug dealers used hang out in the corner. They don’t have to hang out on the corner anymore, so if you see something suspicious, mention something to someone.”
Sgt. Jason Voelkerding, District 5’s Neighborhood Liaison Sergeant, agreed.
“Ten years ago, you (would) drive past a known drug corner and they’re out there waiting on the next deal,” Volkerding said. “Now, all they do is via text and they set up a time to show up to do the deal and they’re gone.”
The good thing about dealing by text: There's less loitering on street corners, which provides residents a better sense of safety.
The bad part: "They’re a lot more difficult to catch. (A deal) can now be on any random street at anytime,” Voelkerding said.
Voelkerding said most attention and resources remain focused on violence.
"Unfortunately, there might be a few thefts from autos (car break-ins) or auto thefts, but would I trade a theft from auto for a person being shot?" Voelkerding said. "Absolutely.
Through the end of September, there have been seven people shot in Northside, compared to the eight shot in all of 2012 and 17 in 2011, according to quarterly data from Cincinnati police.
Street traffic moves along on a bustling Hamilton Avenue in Northside after the evening rush on Monday, Oct. 28. 2013. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO
Residents Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands
Northside resident Sandra Parker, the director of Institutional Research at University of Cincinnati Blue Ash, said the recent rash of burglaries has prompted one of her neighbors to move out of Northside.
She also said there have been at least five burglaries in a two or three block radius around her Philomena Avenue home. Earlier this fall, she said she witnessed three young boys behaving suspiciously and looking into mailboxes.
Neighbors then called the police and proceeded to follow them, but eventually the boys took off running when they realized they were being followed, one of which hopped into an awaiting car.
“My husband found the other two down in the parking lot of the old Orlando’s Bar,” Parker said. “I took my shepherd dog to track the other guy, but was unable to find him. He apparently picked up the other two guys in the car then returned to our neighborhood to confront those of us who were still outside talking about what we had seen."
Negative Stigma And Adverse Effect On Business
Business leaders in Northside are concerned the negative stigma about the safety of the neighborhood may adversely affect their businesses.
New development is rapidly spreading throughout the neighborhood, with a $12 million, mixed-used development scheduled to be completed next summer on the former Myron Johnson Lumber site, according to Northside Business Association President Bruce Demske.
The Cincinnati Northside Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CNCURC) has redeveloped and sold numerous residences, and there has been an abundance of private development, including the Bridgeview building, Visionaries and Voices, the new home of Pallet 23 and the purchase and renovation of the Miller Funeral Home, Demske said.
“We’re in the midst of a blip, it’s an uptick, but I don’t think the quality of life in Northside is any lower than it was six months ago,” Demske said referencing the recent increase in property crimes. “Every businessman wants crime to be zero in the neighborhood, but the single biggest thing we here from our business people is ‘What can I do to help?’”
Lisa Kagen, owner of Melt restaurant on Northside, was a victim of an attempted burglary herself in August. She said at least two young boys were snooping around her Florida Avenue home before she interrupted.
“I left some of my windows open and took the dog to the vet,” Kagen said. “I know I shouldn’t have done that, I guess, but it just goes to show that they’re taking notice of who’s home and who’s not.”
Kagen said that the Oct. 11 shooting at the barbershop just two blocks north of her restaurant slowed business at her restaurant.
Cincinnati police District 5 Capt. Paul Neudigate, left, and Sgt. Charles White, right, look into Stephanie's Hair Options, where one person was shot while getting his haircut at 4206 Hamilton Ave. on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, in Cincinnati. He was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO
The victim was sitting in the third of four chairs when a male suspect wearing a checkered shirt enter the barber shop and opened fire, hitting the victim multiple times in the chest, police said. It appeared to be a targeted shooting.
“All the negative attention hurts business, “ Kagen said. “I really want to emphasize that these people aren’t attacking visitors to Northside.”
WCPO Data Specialist Mark Nichols and Multimedia Producer Brian Niesz contributed to this report.