Killing on Cincinnati's streets on same pace as last year, serious crime down slightly

WCPO breaks down stats in each police district

CINCINNATI -- Joshua Taylor was killed for defending the honor of a female friend last week in an early evening slaying just steps from a Downtown hotel.

Taylor, 25, threw up his fists. The suspect pulled a gun and shot Taylor, making him the city’s 41st homicide statistic. Police arrested Fonte Williams, 22, of Westwood in the death.

“Williams said or did something to Taylor’s female friend, which Taylor didn’t appreciate,” Central Business District commander Capt. Paul Broxterman said. “Taylor was prepared to square-up in the street, but Williams had another way of resolving the conflict.”

The bold Downtown killing —followed the next night by another retaliatory shooting that left three people hurt in virtually the same area —again spotlighted homicide in Cincinnati. The city saw it's 42nd homicide Saturday night when one man was fatally shot on Millvalle Court. A woman was also injured in that shooting.

Despite a year that started with an alarming surge in killings, a six-month review of crime statistics shows that homicide in Cincinnati has slowed and is on pace to match last year, which ended in 75 slayings.

And crimes of violence reported to Cincinnati police, which includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults, is down by 17 percent during the first six months of this year when  compared to the same time last year. Over three years, reported violent crime has dropped by 18 percent citywide.

The murderous trend that started the year prompted city and police officials to come up with new strategies in combating violent crime, most notably providing additional dollars for police overtime and building cases against gangs that wreak havoc is some of the poorest parts of the city.

Mayor John Cranley, Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and other CPD command staff outline the effects of additional police visibility overtime spending on city streets, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, at District 4 headquarters in Avondale. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

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Detectives have cleared 59 percent of homicides to date this year, up slightly from last year's 55 percent clearance rate.  A homicide is considered cleared when a suspect has been arrested or charged. A homicide is also considered cleared if the suspect dies or if the prosecutor declines to accept a case for prosecution. The national homicide clearance rate for 2011 was 64.8 percent and varies greatly by city. 

Police have made an arrest or cleared 11 homicides in District 4 and five in District 3 through June 28, the two police zones leading the city in homicides.

Serious Crime Down Citywide

Serious crime reported to Cincinnati police, which includes violent crime and property crimes, has dipped by 5 percent during the first six months of this year compared to the first half of 2013. And over a three-year span, serious crime has dropped by 12 percent.

But it's the crimes of violence – homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults – that grab headlines, lead evening newscasts and impact the public's perception of the safety of a city, including the report Friday night of a masked gunman who robbed Rock Bottom Brewery on Fountain Square. That robbery was just blocks from where Taylor was killed. 

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New this year: Police at the district and criminal investigations level are focusing on specific blocks, streets, intersections, clusters of addresses, and sometimes, individual addresses to combat crime.

The strategy is known as placed-based policing, when cops identify specific locations within hotspot areas. Placed-based strategies are relatively recent and mark a departure from conventional policing strategies, which historically is more reactive or based on calls for service.

And while violent crimes grab headlines, it's property crimes that are more numerous and affect more people. Property crimes, largely defined as various kinds of theft, are down 3 percent citywide, with vehicle break-ins posting the sharpest decline of 9 percent.

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Crime in the Central Business District

Serious crime reported to police in the Central Business District through June 28 this year spiked by 15 percent, in stark contrast to last year when it was down by 31 percent compared to 2012.

Driving the overall crime numbers were car break-ins. There have been 152 reported car break-ins so far this year, compared to 88 last year, representing a 73 percent increase. Vehicle theft also increased, from eight this time last year to 15. Total property crimes jumped 18 percent.

Violent crime is down 11 percent Downtown, with 51 reported incidents of homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults this year compared to 57 last year.

Crime In District 1

In the first six months of this year, violent crimes were down 14 percent, including a 31 percent decrease in aggravated assaults in District 1, which iincludes Mount Adams, Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton, Queensgate and the West End.

The main areas of focus for District 1 commander Capt. Mike John, who assumed command of the job earlier this year, are Over-the-Rhine and the West End, where police have made strides against violent crime, particularly along Vine Street and the business districts. John said some crime is spilling into the West End.

Total serious crimes, including violent and property crimes, are comparable to last year, with a 1 percent increase.

Specifically, District 1 police are focusing efforts and resources areas directly north of Liberty Street and the area around Grant Park near Back and Hamer streets in Over-the-Rhine. In the West End, the Stanley Rowe apartment towers are the epicenter for crime in the neighborhood, specifically on Poplar and Findlay streets, John said.

“We are well ahead of where we were last year,” John said. “But much of the violence is still related to drug-dealing around Linn Street.”

 

Cincinnati police investigate a homicide outside a West End restaurant late Tuesday night, May 26, 2014. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

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A search warrant executed at 541 Baymiller on June 6 resulted in the arrest of four suspected drug dealers and a gun. The home has long been known to investigators as a location frequented by heroin users and dealers.

John is also asking his officers to focus on traffic stops, too.

“Of course, speeding and reckless driving are things we look out for, but more importantly, there is a link between high-risk driving behavior and violence – we initiate traffic stops to see who’s in the car and to build intelligence on who’s coming through the West End,” John said.

“If you’re going to engage in a risky lifestyle, you run the risk of being exposed to violence,” John said.

Crime In District 2

Incidents in nearly every violent crime category reported to police in District 2 were down, except reports of rape. The reduction in violent crime is essentially the complete opposite from this time last year. Last year, incidents in every violent crime category reported to police in District 2 were up, with rape reports showing the largest increase of 56 percent. Violent crime was up 22 percent.

This year, violent crime is down 22 percent with robbery showing the largest decrease at 33 percent.

“People think I’m crazy when I say this, but there’s been is such a paradigm shift in the community. We’re getting approached from all sorts of people, providing information and we’re solving more crimes,” said District 2 commander Capt. Jeffrey Butler Jr.

Last summer, when Butler assumed command of District 2, and under the supervision of Assistant Chief Paul Humphries, who served as interim police chief, district investigators began building cases on mid-level gang members in Evanston, hoping to build intelligence on top-level players, he said.

“That strategy has worked,” Butler said.

In Madisonville, Butler employed a place-based policing strategy, specifically citing the 4800 block of Whetsel Avenue. Butler said authorities, working with other city departments, shuttered a house on that street known for gang activity and drug dealing.

In Pleasant Ridge and Kennedy Heights, Butler said the “community has had enough.”

“I’ll be honest, it’s not the police doing anything different in those communities, I don’t have anymore cops in those areas now than I did before, the community is just stepping up,” he said.”

District 2 is the largest police district in the city and covers Evanston, East Walnut Hills, O'Bryonville, Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Oakley, Madisonville, Kennedy Heights, Pleasant Ridge, East End, Columbia-Tusculum, Linwood, Mount Washington and California.

Crime In District 3

District 3 is home to one-third of the city's slayings so far this year. The district includes East Price Hill, West Price Hill, Lower Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Millvale and Moosewood, North Fairmount, South Fairmount, Riverside, Saylor Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, Roll Hill and Westwood.

There have been four homicides in Westwood, two in East Price Hill and in North Fairmount to date this year. 

District 3 commander Capt. Daniel Gerard said investigators have been employing a placed-based strategy also, specifically targeting the 2400 block of Glenway Avenue and the 3400 block of Warsaw Avenue – the area directly surrounding District 3 headquarters.

Gerard said investigators are building intelligence and cases on about 180 suspected gang members and those with a chronic history of violent crime in those areas.

“We know where they like to be comfortable, and we have targeted enforcement in those areas to make sure they don’t feel comfortable anymore,” Gerard said.

Every violent crime category in District 3 – homicide, rape, aggravated assaults and robbery – posted double-digit increases through the first half of 2013. This year, every violent crime category has decreased by double-digits, with a 42 percent reduction in reported rapes.

Property crime is down by 3 percent district wide, with vehicle break-ins posting the largest decrease of 31 percent. Vehicle theft is down, too, a 21 percent decrease. Last year it was was up 23 percent. 

Crime In District 4

Much of the story in District 4, which serves 10 neighborhoods - Mount Auburn, Corryville, Walnut Hills, Avondale, North Avondale, Paddock Hills, Bond Hill, Roselawn, Carthage and Hartwell, is the significant increase in killings.

Already, 14 homicides have been committed in the district, mostly in Avondale.

In 2013, District 4 was the only district to report a dip in homicides was District 4. Six killings occurred in the district, compared with nine last year in 2012.

District 4 commander Capt. Michael Neville, working with specialized police units, and with the use of police visibility overtime dollars, has deployed more officers in the 3400 block of Reading Road in an effort to deter violent crime.

Early last month, police  targeted 80 people, with about half suspected of being members of the “Savage Gang” and “Valley Boyz.” The first wave of arrests netted 41 arrests. The gang members are suspected in 117 felonies, including federal gun crimes.

The extensive catalog of violent crimes police said the gang committed demonstrates just how pervasive the gang issue is in Avondale.

Neville told WCPO at the time the two gangs pedaled drugs, namely heroin. They also committed robberies tied to drug dealing. The gangs almost exclusively operated in Avondale, with some connections to other gangs in the city, Neville said.

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, center, on scene where a 19-year-old black man was found in the lot of a vacant apartment building at 3120 Hallwood Place in Avondale shortly before noon Tuesday. Jan. 7, 2013. During the first nine days of the year, police investigated five homicides citywide. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

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Every other violent crime category posted reductions, including a 19 percent reduction in robberies, which Neville said, are directly tied to gang activity. There’s also been a 9 percent reduction in property crime. 

Crime In District 5

The momentum of last year's drops in crime in District 5 is continuing to date this year, crime statistics show. District 5 police encompasses the communities of Clifton Heights-University Heights-Fairview, Camp Washington, Clifton, Northside, Winton Hills, Winton Place, College Hill, and Mt. Airy. This also includes a large portion of the University of Cincinnati, whose main campus is situated within the boundaries of District 5.

Residents saw an 8 percent decrease in violent crime and a 10 percent decrease in overall crime last year. This year, every crime category reported decreases, including homicide, resulting in a 23 percent reduction in violent crime. Three people have been slain in the district to date this year, compared to seven this time last year.

The district posted a a 38 percent reduction in aggravated assaults. 

“We try a lot of different things, but one of the first things I noticed when I got here is that historically police departments have been hung up on quantifying success by arbitrary arrest numbers,” said District 5 commander Capt. Paul Neudigate, who’s been the district commander since December 2011. “If you went out and you had between five and 10 felony arrests, 10 moving violations and 10 parking violations, you were doing a great job, but do those numbers impact the crime that’s on your beat?”

Neudigate isn’t concerned with arrest numbers just to pad a worksheet, he said, instead he wants “quality arrests.”

“Let’s make sure we’re arresting the right people, and it goes hand-in-hand with the fact that there is limited jail space,” Neudigate said.

As part of an ongoing investigation and crackdown on gang activity in the area, district  officers targeted two suspected gang hangouts of the Taliband gang, a notorious group known throughout the Northside area since the mid-2000s.

Since last October’s shooting at a barbershop near Chase and Hamilton avenues, authorities have shut down the barbershop and an adjacent candy shop. Last month, prosecutors announced the federal indictment of Vernon Warner II, 29, for dealing in firearms while not being a licensed dealer, court records show.
Authorities accuse Warner of selling six firearms from Jan. 9, through April 1.

Cincinnati police investigators executed a search warrant at a a Northside barbershop and retrieved four handguns and a rifle, Wednesday, April 24, 2014. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

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Warner was one of several men charged in connection with an April 24 warrant search at Stephanie’s Hair Options and at Candy & More on Hamilton Avenue. District 5 commander Capt. Paul Neudigate said five guns were found during the raid.

Warner, a former employee of Candy & More, is suspected of funneling guns to neighborhood teens, Neudigate said. At the time of the search warrant in April, authorities believed remnants of the Taliband Gang, a gang police dismantled in 2007 and 2008, were operating out of the two businesses.

Neudigate does not believe Warner is affiliated with the gang, though.

“Actions and arrests like that benefit the community and the police,” Neudigate said. “So does it really benefit if we’re just going out and arresting people for violations just to make our numbers look good?”

By design, Cincinnati police district commanders have the latitude to implement district-specific strategies and personnel changes as they see fit, probably more so than other major-city departments.

Typically, violent crime investigators are dedicated to a specific geographic beat, investigating anything from a rape to a robbery to a shooting. This year, Neudigate changed that. Within the last year, violent crime investigators have been assigned to specific crimes and they investigate those crimes throughout the district. In effect, making them specialists on specific violent crimes within one district.

“Some of the investigators aren’t happy with the change, but I think what that has done they become subject matter experts in that category instead of generalists in all the Part 1 crimes (serious crime) and we’re doing a better job in closing cases,” Neudigate said.

READ MORE: Crime and justice stories from Kareem Elgazzar
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