CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A FOX19 NOW Investigation into conditions and health concerns at Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters could result in the city closing the building within the next few months.
Support is growing for a motion directing the city manager to:
- Find a temporary location by May
- Find money in the 2018-2019 budget to pay for a new or renovated building
- Hire an independent, professional building inspector to conduct a thorough and comprehensive inspection of the current facility in conjunction with the federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
A new building is estimated to cost $17 to $20 million.
"After revelations of poor working conditions for employees located at Cincinnati Police District 5 Headquarters, it is clear that the administration should quickly move to relocate all staff at a temporary capacity until the administration can find/build a permanent location," the motion reads.
"Despite there being mold, recurring bed bugs and unacceptably small rooms in which District 5 staff are required to work, there has been no clear plan going forward to replace this facility."
On Wednesday, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson became the fourth council member to sign the motion expected to be introduced to full council soon by Charlie Winburn. Councilman Wendell Young co-sponsored the motion, and Chris Seelbach recently signed it, too.
"There have been enough concerns, from my perspective, that at least we should make sure that the health and safety of our police officers working in that building are protected," Simpson said Wednesday "I mean, these are our police officers, so let's do something about it and let's do something now and I think we can."
At least one other council member, Chris Smitherman, appears to be close to signing the motion.
He said he wants more details where the workers will be moved and how it will be funded.
"I am deeply considering it," he said. "Where our officers are going to be located is key. But I am leaning toward it, yes."
Mayor John Cranley told FOX19 NOW he had no time to talk about District 5 Wednesday and told us to call for an appointment.
His staff reiterated the mayor had no media availability Wednesday when we made a second attempt for comment later in the afternoon, after most other council members took the time to discuss the issue.
So we asked for at least a comment in writing.
His spokeswoman released the following two sentences:
"The situation at District Five headquarters must be addressed. The administration is currently examining all available options to resolve this issue for our police who come to work here every day."
Councilwoman Amy Murray said she needs more information before deciding whether to back the motion.
"I think that we definitely need to be looking into District 5 and I am looking forward to a thorough report from the administration as far as what is happening at District 5, what are the issues and how we can resolve them," she said.
"I think it's hard to be able to make decisions until you have all the data. I would like more info. But I am really concerned when you look at just the data as far as what people are talking about with the number of people that have cancer there and once you see the building.
"We don't want people to be working in those conditions. I really want the administration to let us know what their plan is, what the report is and I think we need to do a study to find out what the issues are with cancer-related illness out at District 5.
Both Simpson and Murray noted the city has fire houses with infrastructure concerns have been let go over the years and now must be prioritized and addressed as well.
"The city, we owe it to all of our employees to be in safe buildings and we will do everything we can to make sure that their building is safe and will be replaced."
Councilmen David Mann and Kevin Flynn said they support replacing District 5 with a new or renovated facility and would have preferred that the city earmark money for it sooner. But, they said they do not see a dire need to close it and move employees to another facility within the next few months.
"I don't think that's realistic," Mann said. "That's a separate issue from whether there is imminent danger to health that would require us to find a temporary solution. I don't see how as a practical matter, I mean, this is already almost February.
"Identifying another location, finding the money to buy the location, finding the money to do all the things you have to do to equip a police district, we have to do it right. We don't fund and open new police districts very often. It has to be done right."
FOX19 NOW began a series of investigative reports on District 5 in November when we were exclusively invited into the building by the leader of the police union and given an extensive tour to expose concerns he said workers brought to his attention.
Fraternal Order of Police President. Sgt. Dan Hils pointed out for our cameras mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters.
[Related story: Cincinnati FOP to Council: Move cops out of 'shameful' District 5 now]
District 5 police station covers a large portion around the University of Cincinnati and overall serves Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Camp Washington, Northside and Winton Hills. About 134 people work there, mostly sworn officers.
Recent air quality tests the city had conducted found no issues with mold, asbestos and radon, City Manager Harry Black told City Council last month.
Moisture was found "here and there" in the building, he said, and the city will hire an outside expert to deal with that.
[Related story: City manager: Air quality tests give D5 'clean bill of health']
"The law department has not received any claim or complaint regarding District 5 or from the individuals who work at the District. If and when we receive a claim or complaint, we will diligently investigate the validity of the claims and defend the City as necessary." said City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething in a prepared statement.
But problems and overcrowded quarters are nothing new at the 58-year-old building designed to be more of a park shelter facility than a police station. Police commanders past and present have unsuccessfully tried for years to find ways to build a new headquarters.
In 2015, District 5's commander, Captain Bridget Bardua, told a City Council committee in a detailed presentation with pictures the building had mold, asbestos, mice, bugs and a leaky roof.
Council, however, ultimately declined to build a new facility.
Since our cameras went into District 5, the police union president said our reporting led officers with health concerns and those who have been touched by cancer to come to him and share their stories.
He said at least 25 past and present District 5 officers have been diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died. Six who died in 2015 and 2016 concern him in particular, he says. Five of them spent most of their shifts in the building.
Hils said he thinks there could be a link between the building and cancer, though there is no known tie between the two.
In the U.S., one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer in their lifetime, according to www.cancer.org. One in four men will be diagnosed with cancers they have a risk of dying from; one in five women will.
Before Council met Wednesday, one of the Tri-State's most prominent civil rights leaders urged them to conduct a study into whether District 5 is a cancer outlier.
Bishop Bobby Hilton, president of the Greater Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network, says testing must be conducted to show if District 5 workers are being diagnosed with cancer at a higher rate than the city's other four police districts.
Hilton's youngest sister, Angela Hilton, is a longtime District 5 police officer who recently was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer.
"The problem no longer stops at a leaking roof, mold, asbestos, bugs and mice. We may very well be dealing with a matter of life or death," Hilton told council.
"At least 25 past and present District 5 officers have been diagnosed with cancer. While air quality tests are appreciated, these fall short of giving an absolute determination of whether there is a connection with the District 5 location and the high incidence of cancer diagnosis among men and women who have worked in this location.
"I have not heard whether the city has called upon the assistance of an epidemiologist who investigates unknown causes of adverse health effects, such as high incidences of cancer. There are medical doctors who are now concerned with the high incidence of cancer diagnosis at District 5."
[Related story: Cancer doctor has concerns about District 5 police station]
[Exclusive: Families of Cincinnati Police District 5 speak out]
Hilton told council the city manager told him when they discussed his outlier request recently the information would be easy to obtain. However, Hilton said Black later told him it could not be released due to medical privacy laws.
"We only want to know if the incidence of cancer diagnosis is higher at District 5," Hilton said. "We do not want anyone's name or other private information.
"Ladies and gentlemen of council, I would like to formally request that you move immediately to determine if District 5 is an outlier. Please do not want for a test to say District 5 is causing cancer. No such test may exist.
"However, if the number of cancer diagnosis at District 5 is beyond what may be considered within normal parameters, please move city employees out of the District 5 building immediately. Your decision to do this could very well save someone's LIFE!"
FOX19 NOW already has asked city officials for cancer rates at the other four police districts to see if they are comparable to District's 5.
A city spokesman has said there was no information available related to health conditions among employees at various city workspaces.
But most council members said they see merit in Hilton's request and obtaining those details.
"I, too, want to know as best we can determine whether there are conditions at District Five that are causing imminent risk of disease, cancer, whatever it is," Mann said. "I think that is an appropriate request. Exactly how we do it, what it will cost, I don't know."
Simpson said: "I think it's important. If there is any suggestion that individuals working in this building have been exposed, we have a responsibility to make sure that is not the case or if it is the case. It will be interesting to see what that reveals."
Smitherman said: "It's always good to get more information when we are talking about our employees health and, I think, sending a clear message that we care about our employees and their work environment is a good thing."
Meanwhile, legal action appears imminent over District 5.
Hils, officers and relatives of current and past officers have all met with lawyers in recent weeks.
Two of the attorneys said last week they are preparing to sue and hope to have the building tested for air quality, lead and other concerns.
One of them,Tara Clark Newberry, is a former Cincinnati police officer who calls the building "a mess" and "disgusting."
[Exclusive: Lawyers ready to sue over District 5]