Squandered Cincinnati crime initiative could have prevented Smale Park, state senator says

The search is on for a solution to Cincinnati’s rash of youth gun violence. Cecil Thomas says it’s been hiding under our noses.
State senator says this Cincy program has lost its way, could have prevented Smale Park
Published: Jul. 7, 2021 at 7:39 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A long-standing Cincinnati initiative that aims to prevent violent crime has deviated from its original methods with possibly disastrous results, says one of its original proponents.

The Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violent Crime sees police partner with community groups, social service providers, probation and parole officers and law-enforcement groups at all levels.

While Hamilton County’s top prosecutor is promising to tighten the screws on gun violence perpetrators, CIRV tries to provide people paths out of bad situations before they resort to violence.

CIRV in its outreach efforts currently targets chronic, violent offenders ages 14-25. But that wasn’t always the case.

The initiative, according to State Senator Cecil Thomas, originally had a more broad-based approach, one that could have prevented Sunday’s fatal gunfight at Smale Riverfront Park.

“The CIRV guys would have been down there,” Thomas said. “They would have been there. They would have already known that ‘so-and-so’ was probably going to be down there to go after ‘so-and-so,’ because people talk. The kids talk to the CIRV guys.”

Thomas is a former Cincinnati police officer and City Council member who has seen the benefits of CIRV.

Founded in 2007 after a record number of murders in the city, CIRV took a significant chunk out the city’s violent crime. According to a 2013 University of Cincinnati review of police data, murders involving gang members dropped by 41 percent, and non-deadly shootings dropped 22 percent.

But in 2010, as it faced a $60 million budget deficit, City Council slashed CIRV funding for two years. The funding was largely returned in 2012, but Thomas says by that point, CIRV had lost its mission.

Gun violence among those 20 and under has remained steady through the 2010s, even as violent crime city-wide has fallen.

The recent rash of shootings with young victims and young perpetrators has Thomas doubting CIRV’s current effectiveness.

“What I see now is sporadic,” he said. “People are trying to do something, but there’s no way to [...] analyze whether they are being effective or not, or we got three groups doing the same thing.”

The initiative still uses outreach advocates on the ground to deescalate critical incidents, though Thomas says the number of those advocates has fallen off.

It also continues to work on group and gang members to prevent violent crime. But a spokesperson for Cincinnati City Manager Paula Boggs Muething acknowledges a shift in strategy.

“CIRV’s core strategy has evolved to include efforts that address both high-priority offenders and high-priority locations, which has shown to produce longer and more sustainable violence reduction than just group and gang cases alone,” the spokesperson said.

Thomas wants the initiative to return to its holistic, community-driven roots.

“We gotta get back to the foundation of the CIRV initiative and put that blueprint back in place, and really, this time, don’t allow it to disappear and relegate down to where we are now,” Thomas said.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley responded to a comment request on Thomas’s perspective, saying:

“I deeply respect Senator Cecil Thomas and all of his efforts throughout the years to stop violence in our City. As a leader familiar with CIRV, we welcome his advice and guidance on how we can further improve our violence reduction efforts.”

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