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'We Will Keep The Faith': Community Members Disappointed By Delayed Action On Anti-Violence Proposal

east westwood shooting
WCPO
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An East Westwood shooting left two children in critical condition on June 12, 2021.

Despite general support for a community-based anti-violence proposal, a majority of Cincinnati City Council declined to take action on it Tuesday. The Law and Public Safety Committee voted 5-2 to hold the proposal.

Greg Landsman's plan includes re-instating the city's Safe and Clean Fund to give grants to neighborhood anti-violence plans. Landsman says he's disappointed in council for not taking action a month ago when he first introduced the proposal.

"Based on the fact that there is a real urgency on the issue, but also to recognize the incredibly hard work that people are putting in and to be able to get them relief and support as soon as humanly possible," Landsman said.

Betsy Sundermann was among a few council members opposing the measure because it includes $500,000 in anticipated surplus from the most recent fiscal year.

"We can't just vote to spend money and then, as you said, just hope that it materializes," Sundermann said. "That's not responsible."

Sundermann was the only opposing vote on a motion two months ago that promised $500,000 in close-out funds to the First Lutheran Church bell tower restoration project. That measure passed 8-1 as part of the budget process.

Asked why he supported the bell tower but not the Safe and Clean Fund, Interim Council Member Steve Goodin said there is now more uncertainty about what the city will have to do to refund taxpayers who worked remotely from outside the city. Although that has been a public concern for months, Goodin says the true extent of the problem is new.

"My vote on the tower would have been different knowing what I know now," Goodin said on Twitter during Tuesday's meeting.

A report on close-out funds is expected in the next week or two.

"When all else is said and done, I think we're going to have significant funds," said Council Member David Mann. "But we held for example, a pending motion to provide $2.5 million for the Boys and Girls Club in East Westwood. And I think a number of us are very interested in that response and to needs which we all agree exist in East Westwood. So as chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, I would prefer that we not make commitments on any of this until we have the recommendations from the city administration in front of us."

East Westwood community leaders say they're disappointed at the lack of anti-violence action at City Hall.

"We will keep the faith because a lot of the things that we've done in East Westwood we've done without the city's help," said Te'Airea Powell, a member of the East Westwood Improvement Association. "And it's not just for East Westwood, it's for other communities that we're also concerned about that don't have the spotlight on them right now like we do."

East Westwood sparked much of the public conversation about gun violence after a shooting there in June left an 8-year-old still fighting for his life.

Landsman says his proposal is based on feedback from community leaders in several neighborhoods. It also calls for an update to the Cincinnati Police Department's PIVOT "micro-locations" data. A June 2017 report found crime hotspots that make up just 1.4% of the city's landmass, but account for 42.6% of shootings involving a victim. Landsman wants newer data that would be shared publicly.

He also wants to expand use of SARA training, a key component of the historic Collaborative Agreement. SARA is a problem-solving model; it stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment.

Community leaders also pushed back on other questions council members raised about Landsman's plan. For example, Interim Member Liz Keating said she wanted to hear feedback from the Cincinnati Police Department before supporting the other provisions of the proposal.

"Knowing that we're 100 officers short … instead of sending them off in different directions with different ideas, can we come together and see where are they; how far we've come in the past month; what initiatives are still working on bringing these new ideas to the table; what works in that whole master plan so that we can do a much more cohesive plan going forward?" Keating said.

Abe Brandyberry, vice president of the Westwood Civic Association, says it's going to take more than just the police to respond to violent crime.

"It's going to take the partners in the community as a whole to fix these issues," he said. "Landsman's motion is so much of it beyond the funding, to say, 'Come on, we need to work together as a community to address these things, to look at PIVOT and SARA and all of those things and making sure that communities are trained in those things in order to make change happen.' "

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, chair of the Law and Public Safety Committee, sought to reassure the public that council is committed to taking action.

"People on this committee support lowering gun violence, period," Smitherman said. "Two, as a Black man, I can't be any more concerned about what's happening in the streets of Cincinnati."

Powell directly challenged Smitherman's statement.

"You stated as a Black man, you're concerned about the crime," Powell told Smitherman. "However, we were kind of disappointed that the two Black men on council — we didn't hear from."

Landsman says he's committed to getting the measure passed as soon as possible.