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Shootings, robberies down in most violent areas

Posted at 10:28 AM, Jan 11, 2016

CINCINNATI - There were fewer shootings and robberies in Cincinnati's most violent neighborhoods, and half of the city's top 24 violent offenders are in jail at the end of a Cincinnati Police Department task force aimed at reducing violent crime, new police data shows.

Leaders of the Violent Crime Response Team, which began mid-October, reported the group's outcomes to the department's command staff on Friday -- just days after the 74-person team dismantled on Jan. 2 and returned to their regular assignments.

"We think we did have the most impact in the worst areas," said Lt. Joe Richardson, gang enforcement squad commander.  "We're very pleased with the outcome of it."

The task force, led by Richardson and Capt. Michael John, followed a historic spike in city shootings. It was the department's first organized initiative to tackle violent crime -- specifically homicides, shootings and robberies -- since Eliot Isaac became police chief in September and since ousted police chief Jeffrey Blackwell created a 90-day crime plan that several department leaders say never really started. 

"The summer safety initiative that came out of Blackwell's office never really materialized into anything," said Lt. Chris Ruehmer, commander of the police department's Vice unit. "It was like a paper plan."

'We Think It Drove City-Wide Violence Down'

The Violent Crime Response Team was a major expansion of the police department's annual holiday robbery task force, which historically kicked off around Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year the task force started earlier than ever, and 74 officers -- including uniformed and undercover officers, traffic cops, homicide detectives and financial crime analysts -- met twice daily to receive intelligence about every shooting and robbery in the city.

Task force officers targeted street segments in 11 neighborhoods -- in all five Cincinnati police districts --  that have experienced the city's most violent crime: Westwood, Winton Hills, Carthage, South Fairmount, East Price Hill, Lower Price Hill, West End, Over-the-Rhine, Evanston, Avondale and Walnut Hills.

"We're using much more precision, quite honestly (than we did before)," Capt. John said in November. "We don't have bad neighborhoods. We have street segments that have challenges during certain times of the day, days of the week sometimes that we can (pass) out to these guys."

Their focused efforts on those violent street segments helped to reduce aggravated assaults and robberies there, even when the citywide trend went up. Task force officers drove offenses in those areas down to at or below the three-year average, according to police department data.

"The areas we picked, we picked because they were driving the city's numbers for violent crime. We think it drove the city-wide violence down," Richardson said. 

In four specific parts of Over-the-Rhine -- on Vine Street, the Reading Road Corridor, the 2400 block of Harrison Street and near Back and Hammer streets -- their efforts reduced the average number of offenses in those areas from three to two. 

Task force members traded intelligence information -- everything from who the key offenders are to who they hang out with to where they hang out and what cars they drive. As of Sept. 23, there were 899 active gang members and 46 gangs in Cincinnati.

RELATED: 9 things to know about Cincinnati gangs

Part of the strategy was to increase the presence of uniformed and covert officers in areas with the most crime and gang activity, also known as hot spots. Task force leaders also asked motorcycle cops to do traffic enforcement in places where crashes and violent crime overlap.

"To see a motorcycle cop come in with a stolen gun is very uncommon," Richardson said. "When you think about solving violent crime, most of us think about undercover cops, and we think search warrants, kicking doors in and handcuffs. Believe it or not, there is a correlation when you do traffic enforcement in those locations. It affects not only the crashes, but it affects violent crime as well." 

Richardson said officers went after dealers -- the drugs they sell and the money they make. One traffic stop led police to recover $120,000 in assets from one man. Richardson said officers caught Donte Davis of 4101 Spring Grove Avenue with more than 323 grams of cocaine on November 10. They charged him with possession of cocaine and trafficking in cocaine, both first degree felonies. 

Violent Crime Response Team officers also seized $256,871 in currency during the two-and-a-half month task force operation -- more than the money it cost for the task force to run. 

"We don't (usually) see those kind of numbers," Richardson said. "This number actually exceeded the overtime we spent on the cops....(The Violent Crime Response Team) was a cost-effective investigation."

The police department used on-duty cops and spent $106,850.90 in overtime to fund the task force. 

According to police data, the Violent Crime Response Team recovered more than 100 illegal guns and almost 7,500 grams of drugs, including 1,877 grams of heroin.  

What's Next?

While officials said the task force worked, it was never designed to be a long-term solution, Richardson said. 

"To use a military analogy: If you're going to have a military offensive, you use a lot more troops to take an area than you need to hold the area, which is kind of what we did here. We used a lot of resources, but we couldn't keep depriving other neighborhoods that didn't have the same crime problem that these neighborhoods did," he said.

"Unfortunately, we had to give the cops back to all the neighborhoods in the city." 

It's up to district captains and unit leaders to continue to move forward with the strides the Violent Crime Response Team made, Richardson said. 

The Gang Enforcement Squad, which Richardson oversees, has just started a new project to target Westwood gang violence over the next few months. Westwood was one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by violence in 2015. 

Chief Isaac said the department will continue to be evidence-driven and focused on the areas with the most violence in the city.

He said police department leaders are developing new crime-fighting strategies in preparation for another uptick in violence that is expected when the weather gets warmer.