Cincinnati councilman asks governor to declare health emergency, close D5

Cincinnati councilman asks governor to declare health emergency, close D5
Councilman Charlie Winburn with an oxygen mask at District 5 headquarters in Clifton on Oct. 26. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters on Ludlow Avenue. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters on Ludlow Avenue. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn is calling on Gov. John Kasich to intervene and close down District 5 police headquarters as soon as possible.

Winburn wants Kasich to declare a medical or public health emergency to shutter the 60-year-old building, a letter he wrote the governor Wednesday shows.

Winburn's letter also wants Kasich to consider:

  • Sending in an Ohio Department of Health team of investigators to immediately evaluate District 5 and determine "why 6 cancer-related deaths and 13 diagnosis of cancer have been linked to this facility from 2015-2016."
  • Contacting the FOP president to execute a visit to Cincinnati this week and meet with him, the officers who remain at District 5 and "citizens to hear their complaints about this hazardous, threatening, unsafe and unhealthy facility.

Winburn wrote that he had no choice but to reach out to Kasich after Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black and City Council "failed to take urgent leadership steps after the local FOP 69 voted unanimously on Monday,October 23, 2017, demanding the City of Cincinnati close this dangerous facility immediately."

"Cincinnati Police District 5 Headquarters, over the last several years, has had heath-related problems which has evolved into a potential cancer cluster of 6 cancer-related deaths and thirteen diagnoses of cancer-related issues among Cincinnati police officers and their support staff," Winburn's letter states.

"The City Administration, over the last several years, has haphazardly addressed these issues without urgency and it has become an evolving and accelerating perception of emergency.

"Every time the (police union) puts pressure on City Council and the City Manager to address this issue, the City Administration comes up with knee-jerk reactions regarding the closing of the building without ever closing this dangerous facility once and for all. It appears they are stalling without actually closing this building," Winburn's letter to Kasich reads.

"About 45 days ago, the (police union) again petitioned the Mayor, City Council and the City Manager to remove all Cincinnati police officers and their support staff out of this building. Because of a request from a few members of City Council including myself, the City Administration was finally persuaded to move 30 wonderful Cincinnati police officers and five civilians out of the building."

District 5's lobby also closed to the public on Sunday.

While the city administration should be commended for those efforts, Winburn wrote, "it does not go far enough in closing this crisis-laden building.

"Cincinnati Police District 5 Headquarters has been perceived as a potential deathtrap and a potential cancer cluster. It is considered the most unhealthy and dangerous facility in Cincinnati," his letter states.

"Currently, there are 100 very fine Cincinnati police officers who report to this potentially unsafe building every day. They are crying out and demanding justice and for their removal and relocation to a safe facility in the next several days with a view toward going home safety to their families each day.

"Is it not a sad commentary that the Mayor and City Council have not demanded that the City Manager close this facility in the next few days?"

FOX 19 NOW reached out Cincinnati police, the mayor, his spokeswoman and a spokesman for City Manager Harry Black for comment Wednesday. We will update this story once we have that response.

The officers who moved Oct. 24 went into temporary offices at the police department's Spinney Field Training Complex in Lower Price Hill.

But city and police officials say they have nowhere in the immediate future to move the approximate 100 remaining patrol officers.

Cranley and other city leaders have said they do care about the officers who work there and are working as quickly as possibly to move the rest out by year's end and resolve the issues.

Police Chief Eliot Isaac, whose own daughter works at District 5, said he would move all the officers out "right now" if he had a place to put them.

"We are going to do everything we can to keep our people safe," he said last week when Councilman Christopher Smitherman invited all media to tour District 5.

The chief found a former bank building on Colerain Avenue near Hopple Street in Camp Washington that he said he hopes can be used as a temporary District 5 until a new one is ready. Lease negotiations are underway.

City leaders plan to renovate their former permit center on Central Parkway in Clifton into the new headquarters. But the soonest it would be ready is 2019.

Officers have complained for years about working conditions and overcrowding at District 5. Now, there are health concerns and fears a suspected cancer cluster is sickening several past and present officers, including several who have died.

That came to light during a FOX19 NOW investigation into District 5.  The police union president, Sgt. Dan Hils, exclusively took our cameras into the building a year ago this month to expose what he said were "shameful" conditions.

Hils pointed out concerns about mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters.

Since then, he has said our reporting on District 5 prompted officers with health concerns and those who have been touched by cancer to come to him and share their stories.

Concerns persist over a pattern of at least 30 past and present District 5 officers who have been diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died, according to Hils. He said he is particularly concerned with six under the age of 60 who died in 2015 and 2016.

Hils has repeatedly said he thinks there could be a link between the building and cancer, though there is no known tie between the two.

City officials say air quality tests run late last year on the building at the FOP request found no problems.

Still, City Manager Harry Black announced earlier this year he was recommending Council earmark $7 million to $10 million to renovate the permit center for a a new District 5 headquarters because the current building is old and is overcrowded.

In January, prominent local civil rights leader Bishop Bobby Hilton went before Cincinnati City Council and the mayor and asked them to have a cancer outlier study conducted on District 5 headquarters.

Hilton request came about a month after his youngest sister, then a longtime District 5 Officer Angela Hilton, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer.

Most council members have said they thought Hilton's proposal had merit and they would like that information, too.

So far, the city has not launched a cancer outlier study - or, if they have, they have not publicly announced it. A city spokesman has said officials would not be discussing cancer rates among employees at various city work spaces.

The city and/or police management also has not asked the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to investigate, an agency spokeswoman said Wednesday.

But police management did back in 2008 after just five Criminal Investigation Section employees who worked at the time in another building were diagnosed with cancer between 1998 and 2008, including four who had died, according to a NIOSH health hazard evaluation report.

NIOSH conducted the health hazard evaluation in November 2008 at CIS, which was housed at the time in a building on Broadway Street in downtown Cincinnati.

NIOSH concluded "the numbers of types of cancer reported among employees of the CPD, CIS, did not appear unusual and were unlikely related to workplace exposures. None of the chemicals used regularly were known to cause cancer in humans, and all personal exposures were below OELs (occupational exposure limits)," the report shows.

In 2015, the city bought a building at 801 Linn St. in Queensgate and has since relocated CIS, the Special Investigations Section and Court Property Unit there.

Winburn could not say Wednesday why the city and/or police management hasn't asked reached out to NIOSH again and requested a District 5 evaluation, especially in light of so many officers' cancers suspected to be possibly linked to the facility.

"That's an excellent question," he said, adding that he remains baffled over "so much inaction" regarding District 5.

Winburn said he doesn't think it's his job to call NIOSH but, he said, maybe the governor can.

FOX19 NOW has asked the city and police department if they plan to contact NIOSH and will update this story once we hear back.

Stephanie Stevens, the NIOSH spokeswoman, said employers, employees and unions can request an evaluation.

Employers, employees, and unions can request an evaluation. Then one of their health and safety experts will contact whoever made the request.

From the information provided by that person, a decision will be made about how NIOSH can assist, she said.

If it's determined an on-site evaluation is needed, health and safety experts will come to the workplace at an agreed upon time. The evaluation may require more than one visit.

For common types of hazards such as mold and indoor environmental quality, an on-site evaluation may not be needed, she said.

If this is the case, health and safety experts will review information from the employer and employees including reports about exposures, illness, and injury.

They will recommend ways to reduce employees' exposures and prevent work-related health problems. They may also suggest other resources.

Evaluations of work places for which the health hazards are already well characterized and the solutions for health hazards are well known can be done in the order of months, she said.

Evaluations of larger work places, or ones requiring development of new test methods or more complex analyses can take more than a year.

NIOSH may provide interim reports to the employer and employee representatives depending on what type of assessments are done.

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