District 3 police to District 5: We support need for safe, healthy work environment

District 3 police to District 5: We support need for safe, healthy work environment
Cincinnati Police District 5 has such a parking shortage, officers must park their personal vehicles on the front lawn at times. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Cincinnati Police District 5 has such a parking shortage, officers must park their personal vehicles on the front lawn at times. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)

WESTWOOD, OH (FOX19) - Dozens of Cincinnati police officers who work at the city's newest police station say they support the need for a safe, healthy work environment and are offering to share their building with colleagues at District 5 headquarters.

The development comes amid a FOX19 NOW investigation into conditions and health concerns at District 5 that could result in the city closing the building in the next few months.

More than 40 rank-and-file who work at Cincinnati Police Department District 3 Station in Westwood have signed a petition in a support for their fellow officers at District 5 in Clifton, according to a copy posted to the police union's Facebook page Monday.

"We want to express our support and concern for our fellow officers who work in district  5," the petition states. "Due to the recent attention given to the working conditions in which our police officers are being forced to operate, we at district 3 felt the need to show our support and we will continue to to stand with them in their efforts to seek a safe and healthy working environment."

The new 39,000 square-foot, $16 million District 3 headquarters opened in 2015. It 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.

A prominent signature on the petition is from Sgt. Rosa Chatman. Her husband, Darryl Chatman, 58, was a patrol officer in Districts 4 and 5 and served as the District 5 neighborhood liaison unit  during his more than two decades with Cincinnati police.  He retired as a specialist in 2010 and died of cancer on Sept. 27, 2015.

District 3 Officer Kyle Strunk Tweeted a copy of the pledge along with this statement Monday: "Showing support for our fellow officers in District 5, who are working in unacceptable conditions. We stand w (sic) them in fight for new building."

FOX19 NOW began a series of investigative reports on District 5 in November when we were invited into the building by the police union president, Sgt. Dan Hils.

Our cameras were the only ones there as he exposed concerns he said workers there brought to his attention including what appeared to be mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters.

Recent air quality tests the city had conducted at the police union's request and an environmental audit found no issues with mold, asbestos or radon, City Manager Harry Black recently announced.

Moisture was found "here and there" in the building, he said, and the city will hire an outside expert to deal with that.

District 5 covers a large portion around the University of Cincinnati area, serving Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Camp Washington, Northside, and Winton Hills. About 134 people work there,mostly sworn officers.

Problems and overcrowding are nothing new at the building designed more as a park lodge than a police station when it opened in 1959.

Past and present police commanders have unsuccessfully tried for years to find ways to build a District 5 headquarters.

Cincinnati City Council most recently rejected budgeting $17 million for a new headquarters in 2015. That came after the current District 5 commander gave a lengthy City Hall presentation with photos detailing most of the same problems captured on our cameras.

The city manager has said it appears more likely a renovated new District 5 will be built at one of the city's existing buildings, but council will have final say when they decide the 2018-2019 budget in June. The soonest renovations could start would likely be 2019, he has said.

"At the time I am writing this a cleaning crew is at District 5 attempting to put lipstick on a pig," Hils wrote on the police union's Facebook page Monday.

"I know I that I have focused on District Five, but District Four has caused the most recent concern. I had a conversation with an officer who was evacuated from the building the other day. Duke Energy reported the CO2 levels as life threatening when the building was evacuated.

"Again, I will advocate for a safe and clean working environment for our police officers."

City officials say the two boiler units have been shut off until repairs can be made. The other boilers are working and will maintain building temperatures.

Since our cameras went into District 5, the police union president said our reporting has led officers with health concerns and diagnosed with cancer to come to him and share their stories.

He said at least 30 current and past officers have been diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died. There is no known link between the building and cancer, but Hils said he thinks there could be.

Six officers who died in 2015 and 2016 particularly concern Hils. He said all were in their 50s and all but one worked in jobs that kept them mostly in the building during their shifts.

Nationally, one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer in their lifetime, according to data from the U.S. National Cancer Institute. One in four men will be diagnosed with cancers they have a risk of dying from; one in five women will.

Last week, one of the city's most prominent civil rights leaders asked council to have a cancer outlier study conducted comparing District 5's cancer rate with ones at the city's other four police districts, or headquarters.

Most council members have said they see merit in such a study determining that data for them to consider. Citing medical privacy laws, the city administration has declined to release that information so far.

Council is considering a motion to close District 5 by May and find another location to temporarily move the officers.

So far, four council members have signed the measure, and a fifth said he is leaning toward it.

Hils is lobbying for more council support.

If the motion passes,the city manager has said one possibility to move District 5 is the city's old business permit center on Central Avenue. But it wouldn't be ready by May.

Council would have to approve, as part of the 2018 budget to be passed in June, to relocate District 5 there, after the building is renovated, Black has said. The soonest renovations could begin would be 2019, he has said.

Executive Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey, the department's second highest-ranking officer, wrote in an email last week to a citizen "District 5 is working hard with the FOP to develop a plan. I have yet to hear of a possible location or next steos (sic)," according to a copy Hils posted on the police union's Facebook page.

Hils blasted Bailey's statement, saying in a the same Facebook posting that District 5 has not been working on a plan, nor has anyone working there been ordered to.

The police union also has not been consulted on a plan, Hils wrote.

"You want a rant on Facebook? Well, here one is:

"From you reply in which you stated that D5 and FOP are working on a plan for D5, I now assume that no one in Police or City administration is working on anything," Hils wrote.

"Just so you know, sir, if one more Council member signs the move order, someone will have to get busy. Because, this would be the responsibility of the City and Police administration, not D5 cops and the FOP."

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