Hamilton County commissioners are declaring racism a public health crisis. The three-member board approved the resolution Thursday unanimously.
"We have to accept the harm done historically and correct it," explains Commissioner Victoria Parks, who led the initiative. "That's what this resolution is. It's an opportunity for us to get this right so that my grandchildren don't have to grow up in an environment like I did."
The declaration focuses on partnerships to reduce racial inequities in health. It addresses training and benchmarking for county offices, conducting an economic disparity study, and expanding the office of economic inclusion. The sheriff has agreed to active bystander, implicit bias and crisis intervention training for deputies.
You can read the four-page declaration at the bottom of this article.
Major Earl Price says he's excited about coming changes and training. This week he and nine other sheriff's office employees attended a virtual open house to learn about becoming EPIC program instructors.
"Meaning, 'Ethical Policing Is Courageous,' " he says. "It's all about if you see an officer doing something wrong or about to do something wrong, then you step in and you stop it before it even starts. And also, it doesn't matter about what rank you are, if you see it you say something, you do something about it. It's all about preventing mistakes and misconduct."
Price says the program is about reducing harm and saving lives and he wants to see every member of the department actively involved.
Commission President Denise Driehaus calls the declaration historic and "a real shift, it's like a flashpoint in Hamilton County."
Vice President Stephanie Summerow Dumas likes that the resolution is more than just words. "It includes organizations to be a part of it, it makes them responsible, and it gives action steps and strategies on how to move forward."
Renee Mahaffey Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Closing the Health Gap, echoes that sentiment. "The specific actions that have been put forth in this resolution mean more than anything because often times things are declared but the actions to dismantle the systemic and structural racism don't go forth."
Organizations like the YWCA and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center are also involved. The Freedom Center will provide implicit bias training. President and CEO Woodrow Keown, Jr. tells the board those programs are ready to begin any time. YWCA President and CEO Barbara Perez says more than 240 companies and organizations have signed an endorsement of the resolution with more expected.
Parks worked with Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce on the measure. That county made a similar declaration in May. Boyce says it followed a year of study and work.
"It's historical. It's important, and it will make our community a better, richer ... a rich cultural place to be and that's just the best that we can be," Parks says.
Dog Warden Services
Commissioners approved a resolution to lease space from the Cincinnati SPCA to house stray animals at its Northside shelter. The county is in negotiations with Clermont Animal CARE Humane Society to take over dog warden duties but will need a place to house animals.
As WVXU previously reported, last August the SPCA Cincinnati announced it would no longer handle the dog warden function in Hamilton County but has continued to provide it as the county works on a new plan.
County administrators discussed allowing the sheriff's department to take over. However, the sheriff's office was only interested in handling the enforcement side, meaning the county would have to find another agency to shelter and care for the animals.
The Clermont County agency would handle both functions.
Animal advocates have argued that SPCA dog wardens do nothing to help endangered or abused animals and don't work well with area law enforcement. They wanted the sheriff to take over and create something similar to the Butler County Sheriff's Dog Warden & Humane Officers program.
They also weren't happy with the level of transparency offered by the SPCA, though the agency made changes, including reporting requirements and quarterly public meetings.
FC Cincinnati Parking Garages
One final note, the board also approved a document that codifies aspects of the county's agreement with FC Cincinnati to build two parking garages. The garages will be owned by the county and built using parking revenues, not dollars from the county's general fund.
The larger of the two will include 830-850 parking spaces and is slated to be completed by April 1, 2021, though there is contingency language in the agreement given the coronavirus pandemic and delays it could create. The second garage will be smaller, closer to 300 spaces, and in the Findlay Market area. That one will be done 18 months after the first garage is completed.