City to move some District 5 officers by June after health complaints, FOX19 NOW Investigation

Cincinnati Police Sgt. Dan Hils, police union leader, inside District 5 on Nov. 16, 2016, the day he took FOX19 NOW into the building to begin a series of investigative reports on the aging building. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Cincinnati Police Sgt. Dan Hils, police union leader, inside District 5 on Nov. 16, 2016, the day he took FOX19 NOW into the building to begin a series of investigative reports on the aging building. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Some workers will move out of Cincinnati Police Department's District 5 headquarters by June, city officials announced Thursday in a development that comes after a FOX19 NOW investigation into health concerns and working conditions there.

"For the first time, I really feel as though we have crossed the finish line in this endeavor," said Sgt. Dan Hils, the police union leader who led the charge to shut down the aging Ludlow Avenue building.

Thirty-four non-patrol employees including sergeants, lieutenants and civilian staff members will relocate in the next three to four months to the Youth Services Section building on Stock Avenue in Camp Washington, City Manager Harry Black wrote in a memo to City Council.

Nineteen Youth Services Section employees will move into the old District 3 headquarters on Warsaw Avenue in East Price Hill. That building has been empty since the new, $16 million District 3 headquarters opened in Westwood in 2015.

In addition, 77 police personnel who currently work at the police department's Spinney Field complex will move into the Warsaw Avenue building. That includes 28 employees in the police department's traffic unit, canine squad and telephone crime reporting unit.

This would allow the city to establish a regional training facility at the Spinney Field Complex, Black's memo states.

The plan is estimated to cost $260,000 to $300,000.

This development comes just over three months after Hils, exclusively invited FOX19 NOW Digital Producer Jennifer Baker and a camera crew into District 5 to show conditions inside.

Hils invited our cameras in after he said he received several complaints from District 5 workers about mold, asbestos, bugs, a leaky roof and cramped quarters that include female and male employees sharing the same locker room.

Problems at District 5 have persisted for years. Past and present police commanders have tried to come up with plans and City Council-approved funding for a new police station.

District 5's current commander, Captain Bridget Bardua, most recently went before Council's Law & Public Safety Committee  in 2015 with a lengthy presentation that included pictures of conditions at the police station.

However, Council eventually declined to invest in the project and chose other priorities.

But after Hils took our cameras inside District 5 on Nov, 16 and we began a series of reports that to date total nearly 30 stories, city administrators and Council began to pay closer attention to the issue.

At the police union's request, the city conducted air quality tests inside the building in early December. Those tests came back showing what city administrators say are no environmental hazards in the building, but concerns persist.

Hils said our reporting caused District 5 officers and civilian workers past and present to come to him with health complaints that include a pattern of at least 30 of them being diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died.

No one's cancer has been linked to the building.

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

But the police union president has repeatedly said he thinks there could be a link between the District 5 building and cancer pattern among current and past workers. He was motivated by that trend as he kept pushing to get his colleagues relocated.

"I felt responsible to do what I must to pressure the administration to take action," he said Thursday. "I am thankful for the assistance of FOX19 NOW for reporting the concerns of our officers."

Meanwhile, at least one lawsuit has been filed against the city by the widow of a former District 5 officer who died from complications of lung cancer in 2015. More lawsuits are expected.

[Widow's lawsuit: 'Hazardous' District 5 led to cop's cancer death]

City leaders maintain District's 5 problems are due to age and overcrowding, not environmental. Nevertheless, building or renovating a new police station was fast tracked.

In January, the city manager announced he is recommending Council take action in May to earmark $7 million to $10 million in the next budget to renovate the old permit center on Central Parkway into a new District 5 headquarters. The budget, expected to be passed in June, has a $25.1 million deficit.

The soonest a new District 5 headquarters could open is 2019, according to Black, so Hils recently asked him to move non-patrol personnel to other locations in the meantime.

Black agreed and then announced the surprise development at the Feb. 13 Law & Public Safety Committee meeting. He walked in as the board discussed directing him to come up with a plan to temporarily relocate District 5 officers before the new building was ready.

"The health and safety of our employees remains a top priority," Black wrote in his memo to Council Thursday. "Any employees with concerns related to their work spaces should bring them to the attention of their Risk Management representatives."

Hils said he likes the plan to move some employees to the Youth Services Section building.

Police Chief Eliot Isaac recently privately met with District 5 workers to assure them they would be moved sooner rather than later.

"He was sincere and open with his people," Hils said. "The District 5 officers were impressed with his attention to them in this matter."

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