CINCINNATI -- Fred Neurohr lives on one side of Hamilton Avenue. His young son goes to school on the other.
"If my phone rings at 9 o'clock in the morning or at dismissal time, my heart sinks because I automatically fear something awful happened," Neurohr said.
The city of Cincinnati spends tens of millions of dollars so people like Neurohr have to worry a little less.
But one police department policy might hamstring those efforts: It says officers can't sit and do traffic enforcement during the morning and evening rush hours -- a time high-ranking police officials themselves identified as being particularly dangerous.
No police department official would explain the policy to us, even after we asked several times. And it's left people like Neurohr, who serves as vice president of the Northside Community Council, wondering why.
"To me, (the policy) doesn't make a lot of sense because 3-3:30 in the afternoon, that's when school lets out," he said.
When the worst crashes happen
In a May 8 report given to City Council's Education, Innovation and Growth Committee, Cincinnati Police Assistant Chief Paul Neudigate and Traffic Enforcement Commander Lt. Brian Norris briefed council members on enforcement efforts over the last five years.
The data Neudigate and Norris compiled showed that the afternoon hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. had some of the highest concentration of crashes resulting in an injury or fatality.
"We have a lot of distracted driving, people trying to get home. And of course, that's one of the areas we will focus our attention is that mass egress from city to the suburbs," Neudigate said at the meeting.
Read and download CPD's full traffic crash and enforcement report, embedded below.
The data make plain that the late afternoon hours stand out when it comes to serious crashes.
Between 2013 and 2017, Cincinnati police responded to 134 fatal crashes. Twelve of those were between 2 and 3 a.m., the highest concentration based on hour of the day. The second highest concentration -- 11, or roughly 8 percent -- occurred between 3 and 4 p.m. This is significantly higher than the average fatal crash per hour rate, which was less than six. The most common crash rate in an hour was four.
The afternoon rush becomes even more hazardous when factoring crashes involving death or injury. Out of 16,909 crashes involving injury or death, nearly 6,000 -- roughly 30 percent -- occurred between 2 and 6 p.m. This four-hour block made up the top four hours for most frequent serious crashes.
'An era of very distracted driving'
The number of crashes is not the only condition that distinguishes the afternoon rush. Cincinnati police procedure explicitly prohibits stationary traffic enforcement during these hours. Think: an officer sitting in a squad car, maybe reading drivers' speeds using a radar gun.
According to Cincinnati Police Department Procedure 12.205, Section A, Subsection 5:
Officers will not engage in at rest patrol or stationary observation during the heavy traffic hours of 0600-0900 and 1500-1800 weekdays, other than holidays, except while performing speed enforcement in school zones.
Lt. Stephen Saunders, a Cincinnati police spokesman, declined WCPO's multiple requests for an interview with either Neudigate or Chief Eliot Isaac. Saunders nuanced the policy somewhat, telling WCPO via email that it "applies primarily to patrol officers, not the centralized Traffic Unit personnel nor designated traffic cars on the shifts in our districts."
Saunders did not immediately provide information regarding the number of Traffic Unit officers on duty during the afternoon rush hours, or how often they engage in stationary patrol.
As WCPO has reported extensively, traffic enforcement steadily declined in Cincinnati between 2009 and 2016. The same time period also pushed Cincinnati to the most dangerous in the state when it came to crashes involving injury or death, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
Neudigate's report acknowledges the dip in citations, and notes that increased enforcement in 2017 correlated with a slight drop in crashes.
Mackenzie Farmer Low, of the Pleasant Streets Traffic Committee out of Pleasant Ridge, said her neighborhood saw some extra enforcement this year, and would like to see more.
"In the spring they sent out enforcement on Montgomery Road, and we'd like to ask for more enforcement on a continued basis -- and not just on Montgomery Road but more of our side roads," she told WCPO.
"We're in a an era of very distracted driving, bigger vehicles on the road more than ever," she said. "I think because of those factors we need enforcement on a consistent, long-term basis in the city of Cincinnati."
Question of resources
Keeping bumps in enforcement consistent across Cincinnati's broad and diverse streets sits at the heart of CPD's challenge, according to City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld. He said he's aware of the recent dip in enforcement, and characterized it as "a riddle we're trying to work through."
"I think this is a bit of a conundrum because no one has been more of an evangelist at City Hall than I have for improving pedestrian safety, but you ask yourself at the same time, 'Is it the highest and best use of our sworn personnel?'" he told WCPO.
"One of the challenges -- just being blunt -- is I think most of our friends at the police department would say, 'When we get a call for an emergency situation, and we need to chase down a bad guy, that's going to take precedent.'"
The department saw this play out in practice when, in 2015, CPD devoted more resources to fighting violent crime in the city's neighborhoods after a deadly month of shootings that summer. In 2017, the department eased back on violent crime investigations, Neudigate told city council, and was able to shift some resources back to traffic enforcement.
"Traffic enforcement is part of what you do as a police officer," said Derek Bauman, a retired officer with the Mason Police Department. "Of course, a lot of that depends on capacity in terms of how much time you can dedicate to that."
For Bauman, data like that presented to City Council last month is the sort of tool necessary to make decisions about resources.
"I think that may be a policy that we may need to take a look at -- is that the most effective way and what was the purpose originally behind that policy?" he told WCPO. "Was it that we don't want to have traffic stops being made on main thoroughfares that then create an impediment to a fast flow of traffic? If that's the goal of it, then perhaps we may need to take another look at that."
More important than enforcement, Bauman said, is engineering and design.
"It's the engineering and how are streets are designed that really impacts to a greater degree driving behaviors of motorists," Bauman said. "So essentially when you see a street that is designed to look like a highway, people will drive like it's a highway."
Saunders told WCPO the department would continue monitoring crash data into July "to see if there has been a reduction in crashes and to assess if our current strategies are working."
Meantime for Neurohr, an urban highway slices down the center of his neighborhood. The city just completed and is now reviewing results of a pilot testing 24-hour parking along Hamilton Avenue, as a means to reduce speeding.
"We have this large avenue that splits us in half," Neurohr said. "We have schools on both sides; we have people on both sides; we have businesses on both sides, nonprofits, community centers. You name it."