In a letter sent Monday to Mayor John Cranley, Cincinnati police Chief Eliot Isaac blamed Gov. Mike DeWine’s 10 p.m. alcohol-serving cutoff for an uptick in violent crime throughout the city.
Cranley forwarded it on to DeWine on Tuesday with a brief request: End the curfew.
“We know that the current shutdown rule is leading to more shootings,“ Cranley wrote. “Therefore, we should try something different.”
In his letter, Isaac wrote that the cutoff was driving Cincinnatians away from bars and toward more dangerous, unregulated gatherings where they could drink and party without health and safety restrictions.
“The unintended consequences of the regulations have resulted in multiple shootings and assaults of which (sic) are unprecedented in the City of Cincinnati,” he wrote. “The majority are documented to have occurred within these … after-hours crowds which have posed various enforcement issues for our agency.”
The liquor cutoff, which was suggested by DeWine on July 30 and approved by the Ohio Liquor Control Commission the next day, prohibits bars and restaurants from selling alcohol past 10 p.m. each night. All alcohol sold before that point must be consumed or dumped by 11 p.m.
When he announced the rule, DeWine described it as a measure intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at bars, clubs and restaurants. He hoped, he said, that a curfew would reduce bar-hopping (with its attendant risk of cross-contamination) and late-night partying (where drunk, uninhibited patrons might disregard COVID-19 safety measures).
At the time, DeWine framed it as a less severe alternative to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s two-week shutdown on all bars in his state.
"We do not want to shut down Ohio bars and restaurants," DeWine said at his news conference on July 30. "That would be devastating to them. But we do have to take some action and see what kind of results we get from that action."
The result in Cincinnati has been more violence as drinkers eschew bars and hold their own gatherings without any health regulations at all, according to Isaac.
“From a law enforcement standpoint, bars and restaurants are highly regulated venues that allow municipalities to quickly, safely and effectively address criminal activity that may be associated with a particular business,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for large, erratic crowds where we are limited to short-term disbursement (sic) and enforcement strategies due to their unregulated nature.
“Officers have repeatedly been placed in volatile situations weekly in their response to these events.”
He cited only one specific incident in his letter — an Aug. 16 party at an Airbnb rental, where a civilian attempting to disperse the crowd was assaulted and then shot in the back — but broadly referenced others, including rowdy gatherings he claimed to have observed in parks and “traditional entertainment areas” where violent crime was once rare.
Cincinnati has experienced a genuine upswing in its number of shootings and other violent incidents throughout 2020, most strikingly in the mid-August weekend when the Airbnb shooting took place.
More than 20 people were shot that weekend; five died. The shootings happened all over the city and appeared unrelated in terms of motive, suspects and victims, according to police.
However, officers said many of them occurred when people were gathered and socializing outdoors. The Rev. Alvin Scales, a community anti-violence advocate who visited many of the scenes, advised Cincinnatians to protect themselves by avoiding crowds.
In his email to DeWine, Cranley wrote that he agreed with Isaac’s assessment of Cincinnati’s recent shootings and supported his push to end the curfew.
“We respectfully ask that you no longer impose a closure requirement on restaurant and bars at 10 p.m. so people can gather safely, wear masks and be subject to the safety offered by public establishments,” he wrote. “Of course, we should always be willing to adjust these decisions as we gather more evidence as to what factors lead to less or more loss of life.”
When questioned about the issue during his Tuesday afternoon news briefing, DeWine said he had spoken with Cranley that morning. His and Isaac's complaints are outliers in the state, according to DeWine.
"Other mayors in Ohio, because I’ve specifically asked them — Mayor Ginther (of Columbus), Mayor Whaley (of Dayton), for example — have told me that they adamantly feel that the 10 o’clock shutoff of liquor is very important to their communities and to their cities," he said.
DeWine said he was open to Cranley and Isaac's criticism and had begun to explore the possibility of exempting Cincinnati from the statewide order. However, he added, the state's lawyers have advised him that such an exemption is unlikely to be legally sound.
"We’re going to see what we can do for Cincinnati," he said. "We can’t promise anything."