Council to tour D5 police station after FOX19 NOW investigation exposes concerns

FOP President Cincinnati Police Sgt. Dan Hils invited FOX19 NOW for an exclusive tour of District 5 last month month. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
FOP President Cincinnati Police Sgt. Dan Hils invited FOX19 NOW for an exclusive tour of District 5 last month month. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Cincinnati Police District 5 on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Cincinnati Police District 5 on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati Councilmen Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young will tour District 5 police station Wednesday amid air quality concerns raised by the police union leader when he took FOX19 NOW inside for an exclusive look last month.

Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Dan Hils is scheduled to walk the elected officials through the Ludlow Avenue building in Clifton at 10 a.m., according to a press release from Winburn's office Tuesday.

The city plans to test the air quality at District 5 after Hils called for mold and radon tests.

He recently showed FOX19 NOW cameras what he said appeared black mold caked on basement vents.

The district's commander told city leaders last year the building has mold, asbestos, mice and a leaky roof.

Winburn said earlier this week he wanted to look inside "without having to get a court order" and hoped the police chief and city manager would permit it.

"It is a concern," he said of District 5 during Council's Law and Public Safety Committee meeting.

The police union leader has called for the 134 city employees who work at the 57-year-old building to be immediately moved. He has said he is concerned about the "shameful" conditions inside.

Last week, he said District 5 officers told him workers came to the building, looked at the boiler in the basement that has a warning sticker about asbestos and "said the boiler would have to go."

Concerns about the air quality at the police station come as Hils says he is troubled by a pattern of officers who worked there dying after being diagnosed with cancer, though there is no known link to the building's conditions.

Now, Winburn is joining him in that stance.

"I think they should close District 5 down. When in doubt, take it out,"  he said. "If people's lives are in danger, we need to move them out."

On Tuesday, Winburn said increased his sense of urgency about he issue, saying he wants to relocate District 5 workers by summer.

"I've been getting more and more calls from current and past District 5 officers who have experienced poor conditions and chronic sickness. They deserve better."

Without plans to relocate District 5 officers permanently or even temporarily, Winburn is urging the administration and Council to implement plans for both.

"We need to start with the safety in the current building by addressing every single health concern immediately. I'd like to see a plan to relocate District 5 to a temporary location in the next three months so that by the time we pass our budget in June, District 5 officers are in a temporary location and we are building a new facility."

Winburn said he wanted at least one member of the media to join him to document what he saw inside the building. He said FOX19 NOW could go along if he could work it out.

Rocky Merz, a city spokesman, said Winburn would be permitted to take a tour, but media would not, per police policy.

The city also will not permit FOX19 NOW to videotape or photograph the testing, which expected to take at any time, though it is not clear when that will be.

FOX19 NOW has repeatedly asked the city when tests would occur. Merz said Monday and again Tuesday testing has not started. He said he would let FOX19 know when it does.

[Related story: "City to test air quality at District 5 after FOP raises concerns, FOX19 NOW investigation"]

Winburn criticized the city administration for barring media from his tour of the district.

"They want cameras for the cops and everyone else, but they don't want the cameras on them. Something isn't right. What does the city administration have to hide?" he asked. "It is your first amendment right. We should know what is in a city building."

Merz did not respond to a request for a comment on Winburn's lack of transparency complaint. But he did address concerns about the boiler.

"Boiler has not been replaced but is planned to be as part of the maintenance schedule," Merz wrote in an email to FOX19  late Monday.

"We will plan to abate the asbestos containing insulation at the time of boiler replacement. We use certified abatement contractors to remove and dispose of the contaminants properly."

"The asbestos warning labels are standard and are placed to inform people that the materials should not be disturbed and to notify contractors who may need to work on the equipment to take proper precautions when doing so. in this case, no material has been disturbed."

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.

The police station has struggled with what Hils and other police officials say are longstanding problems, including lack of space, a co-ed locker room, rodents and pests.

Past and present Cincinnati police commanders have worked for decades to get a new District 5 building, to no avail. City officials have no definitive plan or money earmarked for the project.

After Hils took FOX19 on a tour of the police station, city officials said they are aware of issues with it. They said a new or renovated one will be part of the city's considerations for projects as it plans for the 2018 budget, which Council will pass in June.

Meanwhile, Winburn and two other members of the Law and Public Safety Committee said Monday they all agree District 5 must be replaced.

"The previous city administration placed higher importance on projects such as the streetcar, and a lot of things like District 5 took a backseat," said committee chairman Councilman Chris Smitherman.

Councilman Kevin Flynn noted that officers call the overcrowded district "a three-bedroom ranch that serves as a police headquarters."

Previous city budgets have approved items that are "wants" and not "needs," he said, a trend he hopes to change.

"We have been guilty on this council for putting wants instead of needs as priority," he said. "A functional police district is a need."

Winburn concurred: "This is a can that has been kicked down the road."

Smitherman said he would work to place the issue on the ballot within a year if Council doesn't earmark an estimated $20 million for it in the 2018 budget.

"District 5 is very important," he said. "We will either resolve it in council chambers or at the ballot box."

Councilman Chris Seelbach said he also is all for a new District 5. But, he stressed, Council missed an opportunity earlier this year to fund it.

"But when the Mayor discovered over $20 million in capital dollars last May, did anyone (Winburn and Cranley included) work to fund a new District 5 HQ with the money? I believe I was the only one who even mentioned the need and possibility of using the capital dollars for the new station," he wrote on the police union's Facebook page Monday night.

"Tours are fine. But the Mayor and Council actually had the opportunity to fully fund a new HQ last May and June. And did not."

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