Cincinnati FOP to Council: Move cops out of 'shameful' District 5 now

The leader of Cincinnati's police union says some vents in the basement of District 5 are "caked with black mold." FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker
The leader of Cincinnati's police union says some vents in the basement of District 5 are "caked with black mold." FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker
The new Cincinnati Police District 3 (FOX19 NOW/file)
The new Cincinnati Police District 3 (FOX19 NOW/file)

CLIFTON, OH (FOX19) - A leaky roof, mold, asbestos and bugs.

That's what Cincinnati's police union president says District 5 officers face every day - not in the neighborhoods they protect and serve, but inside their very own headquarters.

Sgt. Dan Hils is calling on City Council to immediately move the 129 officers and 5 civilians who work at District 5 to another location.

"When you work in a place when there are air vents that are just caked in mold, caked in black mold as we just saw downstairs, it has to make you wonder whether or not you're breathing in air that's harming you," he said.

"I think this building is shameful. I think the city of Cincinnati should be ashamed they have 130 of their finest employees working out of this facility."

City Council, Hils said, needs to "fix this and fix this now. We need a new building. You should have a place to work where you can park and breathe good quality air.

"They should have been moved out of here yesterday. Something needs to be done and something needs to be done quick. These people deserve better."

Councilman Christopher Smitherman concedes the city has been remiss when it comes to the 57-year-old station off Ludlow Avenue.

"It's a legitimate complaint. It's a legitimate issue," he acknowledged Wednesday. "District 5 has been in discussion for years. The city, I think, we have failed to do the deferred maintenance on District 5."

Vice Mayor David Mann agrees District 5 needs to be replaced.

"We need a site, we need a plan and money but it has to happen," he said. "I am open to consider any temporary solution. I am sure there are enormous costs related with a temporary move including communications equipment, security, etc. It is probably a lot harder and more expensive than we might suspect. We are probably better off with finalizing the permanent plan and finding the funding for it."

Last year, the commander of Cincinnati Police District 5, Captain Bridget Bardua, went before a city council committee and made a detailed public presentation with photos. She said the building has mold and mildew coming from the basement vents, a leaky roof, asbestos and mice.

Five members of council must agree to a new district building. Smitherman, chairman of Council's Law and Public Safety Committee, and committee members Kevin Flynn and Charlie Winburn, said last year they supported it, but no definitive plan was put into place.

City officials said earlier this week they are continuing to assess the issue. Funding for any capital project including a new police district would be appropriated as part of the 2018 budget, City Manager Harry Black said in a statement.

That process is just beginning and will be determined in June.

Next summer is too long to wait, Hils said.

He invited FOX19 NOW on an exclusive tour throughout the entire two-story station Wednesday in an effort to shed light on an urgent need for a new District 5.

He said he was prompted to act after receiving several complaints from workers there. During the tour, it was clear to FOX19 NOW that some employees are not happy with their working conditions.

Hils pointed his concerns out to our cameras:

  • Spiders and other bugs caught on rodent and insect traps on floors
  • Holes in ceiling panels
  • What Hils describes as a small investigations room where 17 detectives are crammed in sharing 13 computers.
  • Police records strewn in torn boxes on the basement floor because they are out of storage space, Hils says.
  • Boxes stacked on top of several filing cabinets and even vending machines
  • Hils said officers must park their personal vehicles on the grass in front of the building or park in another lot across the street.
  • An "unsafe" interview room where police interview both suspects and witnesses. A table inside lacks handcuffs to secure suspects, and there is no video camera.

The district has been treated seven times this year for bed bugs, according to Hils: on Jan. 4, March 1, May 5, July 1, Aug. 8 and twice on Oct. 31. Bugs walked across a sergeant's desk and were found a week later in a detective's chair.

"The mice, the bed bugs, the roaches, the lack of size, the lack of parking. All these things come together in a building that's just not fit," Hils said.

The building requires such frequent bed bug treatment in part because it is too cramped to be properly clean, he said.

"That facility is completely inadequate and is a flat-out disgrace," said Hils, who joined the police department in 1987. "When I got transferred there in 1989 they were talking about replacing it. It was a complete dump in 1989. And here we are more than 20 years later and no definitive plan."

Lt. Steve Saunders, police spokesman, and Tiffaney Hardy, police spokeswoman,both referred questions about the conditions of District 5 and requests to talk to Police Chief Eliot Isaac to the city manager's office.

Black's spokesman released the following statement:

"We are aware of the condition of this building and the fact that something needs to be done. We have been looking at this for quite some time and figuring out how to resolve the budget challenges in the near term.

Mayor John Cranley also issued a statement: "The administration is aware that this issue must be addressed and as part of the current budget process will determine fiscally responsible solutions to resolve this issue for our police in District 5."

District 5 covers a large portion around the University of Cincinnati and overall serves Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Camp Washington, Northside, Winton Hills, Spring Grove Village, College Hill and Mount Airy.

Last year, the Law and Public Safety Committee commissioned a study to determine if a new building was needed.

At the time, police officials said District 5 needed a building that is 35,000 to 40,000 square feet and hold 165 to 195 officers on at least four acres.

Constructing a new District 5 headquarters, likely at a new location, could cost taxpayers $17 million, according to the report.

That cost is about $1 million more than the new District 3 headquarters that opened in Westwood last year because construction costs rose, the report states.

The new 39,000 square-foot, $16 million District 3 was the first new police station the city built in more than 40 years. It's also a LEED Platinum and Nat Zero Energy facility able to generate as much energy as it consumes.

Hils said he thinks the city overspent on that project and could have built separate headquarters for both District 3 and District 5 for the same amount of money.

"They should have taken half the money they invested in the very large project in D3 and put it in D5. We could have gotten away with a facility that wasn't as extravagant."

District 5 opened in 1959 and was built in 1957 on what had been Cincinnati Park Department property, according to the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum.

Leaders at the time decided Ludlow Avenue was the best location, but the park department wouldn't give up the property so the city of Cincinnati had to give them land somewhere else in exchange, according to the museum.

"Traditionally, perhaps apocryphally, the park department also had sway on the design and this why it ended up looking like a park lodge more than a police station," recalled Steve Kramer, the museum's director and a Cincinnati police lieutenant who retired after 30 years.

"District 5 was never really conducive to law enforcement.," he said. "Almost the entire basement was taken up by the target range and mechanicals. My dad, with less than a year on the department, was assigned there in when it was 3 years old and thought it was too small.  Parking was terrible.

"It wasn't long before they got rid of the target range due to lead contaminants.  The district got bigger and the number of people was increased.  They built a small parking lot on the side.  About 20 years ago, they took over the gas station across the street.  Now they have better parking, but you take your life into your hands crossing the street."

"When I was assigned there, the sergeants' and investigators' desks were so small that a desk calendar wouldn't fit on them.  I used to quip, 'If you want my investigators to work Saturdays, get them a bigger desk.  They have to cut Saturdays off to fit their calendars.'"

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