After FOX19 NOW investigation, City Manager recommends moving District 5 police station

City Manager Harry Black recommends Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters relocate in May 2019 to the city's old permit center on Central Parkway, once it's renovated. (FOX19 NOW/file)
City Manager Harry Black recommends Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters relocate in May 2019 to the city's old permit center on Central Parkway, once it's renovated. (FOX19 NOW/file)

CLIFTON, OH (FOX19) - After a FOX19 NOW investigation into conditions at Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters, City Manager Harry Black is formally recommending it be moved into another building in just over two years.

Black wants Council to earmark an estimated $7.65 million in the 2018 budget to completely remodel the city's permit center on Central Parkway into a new District 5 that would open in May 2019.

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

[Special section: FOX19 NOW investigates Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters]

Our cameras were the only ones there as the police union leader 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.

"I am thankful that the concerns of District 5 officers have been taken seriously," Sgt. Hils said Wednesday when FOX19 NOW alerted him to Black's formal recommendation.

"Ideally, the move could occur sooner. I look forward to learning more about the plan and hearing the reaction of our officers working in District 5."

Black's recommendation comes as Council considers a motion to close District 5 by May and find another location to temporarily move the officers.

Four council members have signed it: Charlie Winburn, who wrote it; Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson.

Councilman Chris Smitherman has said he was leaning toward signing it, but he wanted details on where workers would be moved and how much it would cost first.

Winburn's chief of staff, Jacob Hesseling, called Black's recommendation "a good start" but indicated more discussions would occur and a shorter timeline to relocate workers was preferred.

After the police union took our cameras into District 5, Sgt. Hils asked the city to conduct mold and radon tests.

Those and other air quality tests including an environmental audit of the building found no issues with mold, asbestos or radon, Black told a council committee in December.

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']

At that time, Black told Council's Law & Public Safety Committee it appeared likely a renovated new District 5 would be built at one of the city's existing buildings, the permit center, but council would have final say when they decide the 2018-2019 budget in June.

The soonest renovations could start would likely be 2019, he said in December.

Wednesday's recommendation moves that informal estimate up a year, with work beginning in July 2018.

In his memo to Council Wednesday, Black said there's room at the permit center for 134 employees and parking for 90. The city would need to add 50 more parking spaces.

The permit center has sat vacant since permit offices moved to Centennial II, across the street from City Hall, in 2015. The city bought the property in 2003 for $2.1 million, and Cincinnati's first centralized permit office opened there in 2004.

More details about District 5's recommended move and renovation of the permit center will come in May of this year, Black's memo states. Council is expected to adopt the 2018 budget in June.

The city manager's memo to Council also reiterates a series of internal and external inspections and tests have indicated the building is in "good condition from environmental perspective; however it is not ideal in the long term primarily due to lack of space."

His memo also states that in order for the city to fund the District 5 relocation, "other projects will likely need to be deferred. Obviously, we will provide guidance and insight to assist you in making funding decisions."

Black's memo does not elaborate on which "other projects" would be impacted.

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. Just over 130 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 was built in 1957.

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

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.

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.

Sgt. Hils 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 Sgt. Hils said he thinks there could be.

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

[Related story: Cancer doctor has concerns about District 5 police station]

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.

Earlier this month, one of the city's most prominent civil rights leaders, Bishop Bobby Hilton, 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.

He got involved after his youngest sister, Angela Hilton, a longtime District 5 officer, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in early December.

Citing medical privacy laws, however, the city administration has declined to release that information so far.

But most council members have told FOX19 NOW they see merit in such a study determining that data for them to consider.

Hilton said Wednesday he has not received a direct answer yet from the city regarding his outlier study request but he believes Council is taking health concerns at District 5 seriously.

"Every council person I spoke to was very concerned," Hilton said. "I believe they heard us and recognize the number of people diagnosed with cancer from District 5 makes the location suspicious without another costly study."

And, while Hilton expressed appreciation that the city administration is working to move officers out of the police station, he said he thinks Black has support from Council and the mayor to "expedite and fast track" it.

The officers and other city employees who work there deserve to work in a facility without questionable health issues, he said.

"Time is of the essence. It is my opinion Council would choose to err on the side of life. May 2019 is a long time away," he said.

"I would question if this timeline can be improved. If I can - I'm pretty sure it can be - let's get it done quicker. Again, this could be a matter of life and death."

Relatives of two District 5 officers who died from cancer agreed, including two families who say they plan legal action.

LaKeya "Ke Ke" McNary's mother, Officer Jana Cruse, was diagnosed with breast cancer that spread to her liver, brain and stomach, ultimately claiming her life in June 2016.

McNary confirmed Wednesday she is taking legal action against the city and has hired a former Cincinnati police officer, Tara Newberry of Las Vegas, Nevada, who now is an attorney pledging to file a lawsuit over District 5.

"I think it's a shame that the city can't see how important the move is, it could be a life or death situation for the people who protect and serve our city. So while they are protecting and serving the city, who is protecting them?" she said.

Late last year, McNary and other relatives of officers who worked at District 5 and died of cancer spoke out exclusively to FOX19 NOW. That includes the children of retired Lt. George Edmonds and his wife, Cheryl Edmonds, a clerk/typist who both worked at the police station at one point during their lengthy careers.

The couple died of the same rare form of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. They were diagnosed on the same day in October 2012. George Edmonds died in January 2013, and she passed away in May 2014.

They expressed concerns the building remains open despite health concerns, the cancer pattern and called for the city to immediately shutter it.

The Edmonds' combined children have since hired an attorney, Deborah Dixon of San Diego, California, who is working with Newberry, said one of them, Danielle Edmonds.

Moving District 5 into another facility, she said Wednesday, "is a necessary first step that should have been done long ago and, while it's good for the people who still work there, it doesn't do anything for the people that already got sick or died."

Paula McGuire's husband, Specialist Robert McGuire, worked at District 5 until 2006, when he was transferred to District 3. He beat colon cancer after a 2010 diagnosis, but a 2012 lung cancer diagnosis wasn't as forgiving.

His cancer spread to his brain, and he died in January 2015 - on the same day as District 5 Specialist Stephanie Bradford, 50, who succumbed to Stage 4 appendix cancer.

Paula McGuire's husband's lung cancer was a mystery to doctors.

Not a single day goes by that she doesn't think of her late husband, miss him and remember all the loving memories they shared.

Now, Paula McGuire said she hopes other families of officers currently working in the building can avoid the same sad fate: "Move them now before others die."

Drew Wagers agrees.

His father was District 5 Sgt. Anthony Wagers, 53, who retired in 2014 and died of stomach cancer in July 2016, just weeks after he was diagnosed.

"I am glad the city is beginning to see it as an issue," his son said. "But, ideally, I would like if done sooner than 2019."

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