Pubdate: Sat, 29 Nov 2003
Source: Cincinnati Post (OH)
Copyright: 2003 The Cincinnati Post
Contact:  http://www.cincypost.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/87
Author:  Roy Wood and Kevin Osborne, Post staff reporters

HOMICIDES APPROACHING RECORD

It's been another brutal year on Cincinnati streets, with 2003's homicide
rate approaching the 66 killings that tied a 15-year high last year.
As of Friday, 61 people had been killed in Cincinnati.

Although drugs are at the root of many of the slayings, there have been
notable exceptions.

One of the most infamous is the death of 81-year-old Lavern Jansen, whose
killer followed her home from a neighborhood pharmacy and overpowered her in
her Covedale home March 19. Police, who have yet to make an arrest in the
case, have not disclosed how she was killed.

"That's a very sad case," said Police Lt. Kim Frey, commander of the
homicide unit. "She's not out dealing drugs. She's not out standing on a
street corner. It's a horrible, horrible crime."

As disturbing as the particular circumstances of some of the slayings are,
the raw homicide statistics for Cincinnati are perhaps even more troubling.
In recent years, Cincinnati's homicide total has been substantially higher
than that of some much bigger cities typically thought to have worse crime
problems.

Cincinnati's 66 homicides in 2002 compared unfavorably, for example, to the
47 homicides in 1.2-million population San Diego, the 58 killings in San
Francisco (population 791,000) and the 53 deaths in Denver (569,000
residents). The city's 2002 homicide total also was more than twice that of
San Jose (population 913,000), where there were 28 killings last year, and
the 26 homicides in Seattle (population 572,000).

With a population of 330,000, Cincinnati's 66 homicides in 2002 represented
20 killings per 100,000 residents, well above the 13.73 average for 32 major
U.S. cities analyzed in one study by a  Washington public safety watchdog
group. That rate placed Cincinnati in some most unwelcome company, alongside
such cities as Chicago (22.2 homicides per 100,000 residents), Philadelphia
(19 per 100,000) and Los Angeles (17.5), according to FBI crime statistics.
The nation's "murder capital" last year was Washington, D.C., where the
city's 262 homicides equaled 45.8 per 100,000 residents.

While there is no way to be completely certain how often Cincinnati's
homicides are in some way linked to drugs, many suspects and victims have
previous drug arrests, Frey said.

"That does seem to be a recurring theme," she said. "Robbery, drugs and
money -- all three are intertwined," she said.

Police said about two-thirds of last year's homicides were drug-related.

Although Frey noted that this year's homicide total to date is not that much
higher than many other recent years, some City Council members are
distressed by the numbers.

"I'm very concerned about the homicide rate," said Pat DeWine, outgoing
chairman of council's law committee. "The city is not as safe as it should
be."

Throughout the just-completed council election, DeWine often cited one
statistic that he argued vividly made his point. In 1990, DeWine told
campaign audiences, a person was 2 times more likely to become a homicide
statistic in New York than in Cincinnati. Last year, those numbers were
reversed, he said.

The city needs to develop "a zero tolerance for disorder," he said, in part
by strictly enforcing laws that help eliminate the type of environment in
which crime flourishes. Cincinnati also needs to do a better job deploying
its police recourses, DeWine said.

Mayor Charlie Luken is encouraged that Cincinnati police are getting a
better grip on the city's crime problem. After roughly a two-year period
following April 2001's race riots, during which police arrests and citations
dropped dramatically, officers are becoming more engaged and doing more
preventative work, Luken said.

Cincinnati's violent crime rate this year is about 10 percent lower than for
2002, and drug arrests are up by about 40 percent.

"That is a function, obviously, of a period of time when the police were not
aggressively enforcing the law and backed off after the riots because they
felt they were being picked on," the mayor said.

"That is not nearly enough, and the murder rate is still way too high, but I
believe with some of the proactive policing that's going on, I hope we're
going to see these trends continue."

DeWine and other critics, however, noted that the figures compare
unfavorably to the pre-riot statistics from 2000 and earlier, and said that
more work needs to be done.

Rising crime isn't unique to Cincinnati, Luken countered. After several
years of decline throughout the 1990s, many cities are seeing more
homicides.

"There's evidence that this is a phenomenon," Luken said. "In Columbus,
they're approaching 100, but it's an unacceptable circumstance." (Columbus
last year had 129 homicides, roughly twice Cincinnati's total. With a
population of about 712,000, however, that city also is about twice
Cincinnati's size.)

Council Member David Pepper, who takes over the law committee next week from
DeWine, said the number of homicides in the city is "clearly troubling."
Even more worrisome, he said, is the number of felonious assaults with
firearms, which are rising dramatically.

In 2001, 184 people were injured with guns, he said. That number climbed to
246 in 2002 and stood at 296 through Oct. 31 this year. If that rate
continues through the end of the year, the total would approach 400, Pepper
noted.

So far this year, police have confiscated about 800 guns during arrests and
other incidents.

Given the number of shootings in the city, it's surprising that the homicide
rate isn't higher, Pepper said.

"I honestly think we have a much bigger drug problem than we've ever had,
and these drug dealers have more guns," Pepper said.

Drug dealers are protecting turf, punishing people for bad drug deals and
sending messages, often by shooting them in the legs or the groin, Pepper
said.

The first thing he wants to do -- at his first law committee meeting in
December -- is to look at the city's criminal gun-use statistics and figure
out how to tackle the gun problems in a few hot spots throughout the city.

Over-the-Rhine, the West End and Northside are among the neighborhoods with
the highest crime rates.

One tool that Pepper wants to use to try to reverse the trend is Project
Disarm, a federal program under which local and federal prosecutors work
together to make sure criminals get tougher sentences for carrying guns than
they would receive under state laws.

Pepper also wants to work with citizen groups willing to stand up to drug
dealers, using them to help police identify "hot spots" in their
neighborhoods.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin