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Group seeking to replace Cincinnati Police with ‘public safety’ department

Hopes to put the amendment to a vote this November
Cincinnati Police District 1 Headquarters
Posted at 11:25 PM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-14 07:27:17-04

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati activist group People’s Safety Reimagined (PSRe) hopes to totally change how the city’s police department works, including only arming some police officers to respond to violent crimes and capping police budgets.

Now, they believe they are close to getting a charter amendment on the November ballot to make that possible.

The charter amendment would eliminate the Cincinnati Police Department and create a new model to create a “public safety department” with six divisions. Only one, the Felony Crimes Division, would include trained officers allowed to carry lethal weapons, while the others would focus on responding to calls for mental health emergencies, addiction or housing issues.

"The FCD shall be the only Division equipped with weapons capable of inflicting grievous injury or death, and shall not be permanently assigned to an educational institution or library," the amendment reads in part.

Jeremy Schlicher, the group's campaign manager, said more than 90% of police service calls since 2017 have nothing to do with crime, according to his research. Those include non-injury accidents, traffic stops, non-violent family disputes and noise complaints, among others.

"So much of what our officers do has literally nothing to do with crime," he said.

Instead of completely defunding police, the amendment would cap the department’s budget at 25% of the overall city budget, compared to 36% of the budget last fiscal year.

"Funding for the Public Safety Department shall come exclusively from the City of Cincinnati’s General Fund, and the total annual budget of the Public Safety Department shall not exceed 25 percent of the General Fund Operating Budget. The total annual budget of the Felony Crimes Division shall not exceed 10 percent of the PSD’s annual budget. The annual budget of the PSD shall be submitted by the executive director to the council for final approval," the amendment reads.

Petra Hostetler, the group’s spokesperson, said this movement is about re-imagining policing.

“This is changing that language to public safety. How do we serve the community that needs to be served? How do we address the mental health issues?" she said.

But not everyone is convinced that replacing the city’s police department is a good idea. Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police President Daniel Hils called the charter amendment “insane.”

“I’m not exaggerating at all when I say it would totally change our society,” he told WCPO. “You would not have safe streets. You would not have safe neighborhoods.”

Hils said Cincinnati has already made a lot of progress through things like the Collaborative Agreement. Per the amendment, the new department would only be able to spend 10% of its already reduced budget on its felony crimes division, which Hils said would be regular police officers as we call them today.

“Not to be overly dramatic -- and I’m not -- what they are talking about doing would absolutely blow up the police department. Therefore, it would blow up our orderly society.”

Supporters like volunteer Kara Oelker said the public safety department would address issues like police use-of-force and racial disparities in policing. PSRe volunteers have been gathering signatures for weeks to get an amendment to Cincinnati’s charter on the November ballot.

“People want change,” Oelker said. “People want something different.”

Cincinnati City Council member Betsy Sundermann disagrees, saying with the Collaborative Agreement, Cincinnati has already fixed a lot of problems seen in other cities. She believes that PSRe's proposal misunderstands how the police department and police calls work.

“We love the police in Price Hill,” Sundermann said. “No one in my neighborhood wants to defund or get rid of the police. We have so much crime in this neighborhood, we want more police officers.”

PSRe leaders said they are confident they have enough signatures to get the charter amendment on the ballot and will turn them into the city in time for their Friday deadline.

Read the full text of the proposed amendment here.