I-Team: Is front entrance part of the problem at downtown Cincinnati library?

Data show high number of police, fire runs
Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 12, 2016

CINCINNATI -- It's had 500 police runs for problems like weapons, fights and drugs, the kinds of problems you might associate with a rowdy nightclub.

Instead, those problems are happening at the Downtown branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The crimes frustrate patrons, neighbors and even library security -- so much so that the WCPO I-Team found library officials are considering changing the Vine Street entrance to make it a less desirable place to linger.

People who own businesses adjacent to the library said they've seen drug deals during the daytime and people shooting up in secluded areas nearby. Last spring, the WCPO I-Team discovered a spike in heroin overdoses inside the library building.


Bonita Jones was visiting the Downtown library this month to look for a job. She said the Vine Street entrance is intimidating, and she avoids it.

"They be yelling at each other or going to fight or not, so I try to come out on this end," she said.

As one of Downtown's largest public buildings, library security manager Wei Liu said some issues are inevitable. He has 15 security officers on his team, which is sometimes also staffed with contract security officers. Cincinnati police officers also patrol the area.

"We have over a million people coming into the building each year, and obviously, with that many people coming into the building, we're obviously going to run into some issues," Liu said.

Cincinnati Police Department data show emergency crews responded to the Downtown library more than 500 times from 2012 to mid-2016. Nearly half involved some sort of disorderly conduct or a fight, while 11 percent were for people who needed medical attention and 9 percent of runs were for weapons, guns or drugs.

"That is a lot," said Capt. Mike Neville, commander of CPD's Central Business District. "It's not anything that we're not aware of. Some of those calls are generated by the police officers that are on scene or in the library itself."

Neville said the problems aren't limited to the library: Police are working to address issues at other public places Downtown, such as Government Square. He declined to say specifically how police are approaching issues at those locations.

Officers responded to 15 heroin overdose calls at the Downtown library between September 2015 and the end of July 2016; there were no heroin calls listed before that. Library security and police can only do so much, Liu and Neville said, because the library is a public building, which means the public is free to assemble there.

"The natural flow of the Vine Street entrance is like a funnel, so people like to congregate out there," Liu said. "As long as they're not doing anything they shouldn't be doing, they're free to utilize the space and enjoy it."

Jones said she wishes security staff and police officers would walk around the Vine Street entrance more often. The library has added more security patrols, and the police department enhances its presence in the area depending on need. And Liu said changes might go further than that.

"They're thinking about leveling all this area out to make it flat so there aren't all these steps leading up," Liu said.

The Vine Street entrance acts like a funnel, Liu says. Image by Google Street View

It's a major change that will take a lot of time and money, leaving people who live and work nearby frustrated that the situation isn't improving more quickly. Neville asked anyone with concerns to get ahold of him.

"Unfortunately a few people ruin the experience for everyone else," Liu said. "What we're trying to do is work together with police, work together with our neighbors, and address those issues."