CLIFTON, OH (FOX19) - Detectives and other employees at Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters who spend most of their shift in the building can temporarily move to other facilities if they want, City Manager Harry Black announced Monday.
The surprise development came during City Council's Law & Public Safety Committee meeting. It also follows a FOX19 NOW investigation into conditions and health concerns at the Ludlow Avenue building.
Black walked into Monday's meeting as Councilmen Chris Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Kevin Flynn discussed a motion that, if passed by full council, will direct Black to have a plan to move District's 5 employees to another facility by May.
"I'm always listening," Black quipped.
Last month, Black recommended the city close District 5 in 2019 due to what he said are issues over its age and overcrowding.
He wants City Council to act in May to earmark $7 million to $10 million in the next budget, for 2018, to completely renovate the city's old permit center on Central Parkway into a new police station.
The soonest the new police headquarters could open is 2019, he has said.
But on Monday, Black said he changed his mind.
A "handful" of workers such as detectives and support staff who work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. can temporarily move or be reassigned to other districts if they want until the new facility is ready, he told the committee.
The other District 5 workers in the building are patrol officers who spend most of their shifts on the streets, he said.
"If any of those individuals would like to be temporarily reassigned to another district, that's fine by me," Black told the committee.
"Nearly nearly three quarters or more who those working or who have District 5 as their duty station are not there. They are out and about doing police work."
Black said he reached his decision after recently speaking in private with the police union president, Sgt. Dan Hils.
Council Members Charlie Winburn and Amy Murray also have been pushing for city administrators to present a plan to temporarily move District 5 workers before 2019.
Next, city and police administrators including Chief Eliot Isaac are expected to work out details on how many officers might move and update the committee in two weeks.
About 129 sworn officers and 5 civilian employees work at District 5.
Council Members Chris Smitherman, Kevin Flynn and Winburn immediately praised Black's announcement.
"This is good news," Smitherman said.
Winburn said: "If we can move the detectives and full-time staff out, that will work. I like that."
Flynn noted that District 5 has substations officers can use so they don't have to be reassigned.
Sgt. Hils said moving some staff out is a step in the right direction.
He said he still thinks all District 5 workers should be relocated as soon as possible, but he is glad the city manager is at least agreeing to move some sooner rather than later.
Sgt. Hils estimates between 30-50 detectives and support staff might move.
However, he cautions, many details still need to be worked out.
For instance, if detectives put in for transfers, he said he has concerns they could lose preferred assignments they worked hard to earn.
"I am taking a wait-and-see approach. I think this is something that needs to be a little more concrete," Sgt. Hils said.
"I think they need to find a location to move the detectives and support staff. This would be something for somebody in city administration, facilities management, working in conjunction with police administration to come up with that answer.
"I don't think it's the FOP's place to come up with that answer or FOP's responsibility. I also don't think it's the District 5 officers' responsibility. It's facility management and police administration. They should work together to find a safe and reasonable place for these officers to carry about their duties."
Plans to move officers comes after FOX19 NOW began a series of investigative reports on District 5 in November.
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.
Sgt. Hils exclusively invited our cameras into the building for an extensive tour to expose several issues he said workers brought to his attention.
Police commanders past and present have unsuccessfully tried for years to convince council members to spend money on a new building.
As our cameras rolled, Sgt. Hils pointed out concerns about mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters. Many of those issues echoed ones the current District 5 commander, Captain Bridget Bardua, outlined in a lengthy 2015 City Hall presentation that included photos.
The police union asked the city to conduct air quality tests that came back, according to Black, giving the building a "clean bill of health."
Still, concerns persist, especially over a pattern of at least 30 past and present District 5 officers who have been diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died.
Sgt. Hils said our reporting prompted officers with health concerns and those who have been touched by cancer to come to him and share their stories.
Six who died in 2015 and 2016 concern him in particular, he has said. Five of them spent most of their shifts in the building.
Sgt. Hils said he thinks there could be a link between the building and cancer, though there is no known tie between the two.
The FOP and some relatives of District 5 employees who have died have consulted attorneys, and some families say they have retained them.
At least two lawyers tell FOX19 NOW they are planning to file lawsuits over the building.
In other District 5 developments Monday, council members will tour the permit center soon, Smitherman announced.
Details are being negotiated with police and city administrators, he said.
The media, including FOX19 NOW, will be included, Smitherman and Winburn vow.
FOX19 NOW has repeatedly asked a city spokesman to tour the permit center, to no avail.
"There should be no reason to bar the media from going," Winburn told Black.