Nothing like a little finger pointing to get something done, right? At least that's what has happened as a result of my article "A Path Through Weeds" in last week's CityBeat and an e-mail sent to the Mayor and members of City Council inquiring about the abandoned building and vacant lot referenced in the article that are adjacent to Oyler Elementary School in Lower Price Hill.
I received an e-mail response from Mark Manning, aide to Mayor Mark Mallory, that said nothing of substance; to his credit, he did look into the situation. Jason Barron, Mallory's communication director, provided “an update on Oyler Elementary.”
It turns out that the city's Department of Community Development has been quick to respond and the code enforcement people are going to try to track down the owner of the abandoned building, which is listed with the city as vacant. They'll be boarding up be windows on the property as soon as possible, and maybe they can do a better job than the boards already there. But a fence to block access to the area where Oyler students hide from teachers isn’t going to happen.
“There’s only so much we can do,” Barron said. “We can’t build on someone’s property, but we’ll do what we can.”
I also received this unsolicited response from the Cincinnati Police Department:
On May 22, 2008, at 7:14 PM, Whalen, James wrote:
Your email to City Council was forwarded to me for action on the negative conditions around Oyler School. Of course, the Police Dept expends substantial resources in the area but the workload does not seem to decrease much.
I read your article to learn more about the issue and noticed the quote from the principal about knowing the drug sources in the neighborhood but deciding to "let the cops figure it out for themselves."
I'm sure you've seen the same documentation I've seen that dooms policing efforts without the community's cooperation. Do you think Mr Hockenberry will help us help him? Conversely, do you or he have other suggestions that will assist the Police Dept with this situation. Thanks
LtC. James Whalen
Cincinnati Police Department
I responded with this email (excerpted for brevity):
On May 27, 2008, at 11:07 AM, Margo Pierce wrote:
Dear Lt. Whalen,
All due respect, I do not see how you can help Oyler or Principal Craig Hockenberry unless you've got a crew to clean out and board up the vacant lot across from the school. But I don't get the impression that's what you have in mind.
You point out a single item from the article — a drug dealer — and reinforce the point that the police need help from the community to help with "policing efforts." You cannot get rid of the drug dealers in the neighborhood — the police and the DEA had 30+ years to do that and it hasn't happened yet. … So removing a known entity means an unknown will move into the neighborhood to take over. How does having a new drug dealer nobody knows about help Hockenberry? …
Then there's the kid he's trying to get off drugs and back into school. If you arrest him he's not going to get clean and he's not going to graduate. Hockenberry has a better chance of getting that kid to change his behavior than you do because of the trust the relationship they have. "Policing" is about arresting and punishing, not rehabilitation and education. Changing people's minds takes trust, time, patience and resources.
I see CPB publish the number of drug dealers arrested; there's also publicity for the pounds of drugs, number of weapons and amount of cash seized. But nowhere do I see the number of cops who are mentors in inner city schools and how many of their kids end up graduating or getting off drugs as a result of their influence…
But that's my opinion. You'll have to talk to Hockenberry about what he needs — I can't speak for him.
Whalen replied back (excerpted for brevity):
On May 27, 2008, at 12:03 PM, Whalen, James wrote:
Please don't take my prior message as a slight to the overall importance of what the folks at Oyler School are trying to accomplish. Nor did I intend to slight your article. I understand it; we are involved with Oyler School on several levels, and have been for a long time. When you initiate messages to City Council about such things, it generates a forwarding of the message to various city departments for pieces of the response. I received a request from City Council to do what we could for Mr. Hockenberry in his efforts there.
I discussed this issue with Captain Kim Frey (District Three Commander) and Captain Dan Gerard (Special Services Section/School Resource Officer Commander) just this morning. The first thing we are doing is having Officer Steve Ventre visit Mr. Hockenberry, as Steve does on a regular basis. At the same time, we are contacting the Building Dept to see what they can do about boarding up or tearing down the building you mentioned. Sometimes we can get issues such as this moved up on their priority list.
This leaves the other immediate step we can take, which is identifying and prosecuting the individuals responsible for drug sales on the school's perimeter. … It is important; if it were not you likely would not have found it important enough to write your article and we would likely not be having this conversation.
If I can be somewhat academic (as opposed to being perceived as argumentative, which is not my intent) for a moment, the two biggest complaints I hear about local police service are 1) Why didn't the police do something?; and 2) Why don't the police work more/better with the community? In this case, our power to make a situation like this appreciably better is somewhat limited. The best we are likely to do is to improve the short-term situation; perhaps eliminate an immediate piece of the problem (maybe it's the building, maybe it's a drug dealer or two, hopefully both, etc.) and then try to maintain until the "replacement" bad guy or replacement abandoned building shows itself….
Thanks for writing back.
Lieutenant Colonel James L. Whalen
Assistant Police Chief
Patrol Bureau Commander
Cincinnati Police Department
— Margo Pierce