President Joe Biden got a taste of frustration on Wednesday from a local legal aid worker fed up with gun violence.
Speaking to the president at a CNN town hall inside Mount St. Joseph University, paralegal Andrea Solis Canto was frank: “I’m tired, and I want to see change.”
She was referring to gun violence throughout Cincinnati, a recurring problem that’s attracted renewed attention since a shooting at Smale Park on July 4. Both of the shooters died at the scene. Both were under the age of 20.
Biden replied with a pitch for “community policing,” a set of policing practices that prioritizes developing relationships with community members and ensuring officers are familiar with the neighborhoods they patrol.
“Here's the deal: Cops are having real trouble,” Biden said. “They're not all bad guys. They're good guys. We need more policemen, not fewer policemen, but we need them involved in community policing.”
The Rev. Gene Ellington, who preaches at Consolation Baptist Church in College Hill, said he welcomes that strategy. He added he believes it could be especially helpful in creating better relationships between police and Black communities.
“There seems to have been an abandoning of that approach to policing, and we really need to bring that back,” he said.
Sgt. Jim Perkins, who supervises the Cincinnati Police Department’s gun crimes task force, said in an interview the week before Biden’s arrival that positive community relationships are key to the work his team does.
Developing trust with people in the neighborhood can be the difference between a solved case and one that stays cold forever.
“It shows that we care,” he said. “And it shows that we're willing to get out there and take a proactive stance against the gun violence."
And the COVID-19 pandemic has likely intensified the urgency of anti-violence efforts, including those focusing on young people, said Cincinnati Children’s Hospital trauma surgeon Dr. Victor Garcia.
According to the National Institute for Health, the pandemic’s effects on adolescents include increased impulsivity, making them more likely to act first and think later.
Mix in poverty and disadvantages concentrated in some of the city’s neighborhoods, and Garcia sees a problem too big for handcuffs.
“We need to really look at the data, the science that shows that we need to transform the neighborhood context and do that soon,” Garcia said. “Because the iceberg is melting."