Residents of West End, OTR , downtown Cincinnati voice frustration over loud, crowded streets at night

“Something has to change. The streets are lawless now,” wrote one resident in a recent Community Council survey about crime and safety.”Life looks bleak for a lot of folks right now,” wrote another.The comments helped form the backdrop Tuesday for a high-level of frustration voiced by residents on the West End, Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.It was so raw to Wendell Walker, he had to compose himself to describe the West End street where he lives. “I’ve dealt with human defecation, urination, prostitution,” he told the Law and Public Safety Committee at Cincinnati City Hall.He called Livingston Street “humanly uninhabitable right now.””Smoking crack cocaine, I’ve been threatened. I’ve had people threaten to kill and poison my dogs,” he said.Walker paused there to stifle a sob.We watched officers around Linn and Livingston on Tuesday asked residents about street violence, personal safety and gunfire. Officer Andrea Taylor said: “The community is kind of, like, OK, we hear this all the time. They’re used to it and that’s a problem.”We are told the pandemic has created a perception problem, a belief on the streets that cops are backing off due, in part, to COVID-19 concerns and to a lack of confidence that the politicians will stand up for them if there’s controversy about what they do. So, at one, two, three and four in the morning, residents say outsiders flood certain streets like it’s “Road Warrior” time.They described the area around 13th and Main streets on weekend nights as a loud, unruly, intimidating street party complete with beer and booze sold out of car trunks. They told lawmakers and police commanders that music blares from speaker systems at such a high volume the windows of the old Italianate brick buildings vibrate and rattle.They pleaded for something to be done about motorbikes drag racing along Main and other interior streets. “At times, it looks like a scene out of a ‘Mad Max’ movie,” said Bob Sehlhorst, who lives and works in Over-the-Rhine.Residents said they’re sick of it and want police to clear the streets.Chief Eliot Isaac acknowledged the concerns and is working on a plan to increase uniformed visibility in trouble spots around the city.At the same time, he pointed out it’s not illegal to be out at 4 or 5 a.m. “People have a right to be out on the street,” the chief said.Police have some tricky navigating ahead of them.With city streets at stake, police commanders were told by Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman, who chairs the law committee, that council supports the police and will back the police.Smitherman took pains to mention no one wants excessive or over-policing, but that under-policing is not desirable or effective, either. He expressed confidence that police will get control of Main Street. “Any criminal out there who believes that they’re running Cincinnati streets are going to learn that they do not,” Smitherman stated.There’s a bipartisan push by David Mann, Democrat, and Betsy Sundermann, a Republican, to create a task force that would include people who live in the West End community and know it well to come up with safety solutions for troubled West End streets.Everyone seems to be searching for the right approach, the right tone. That search includes the man on Livingston Street.”I want you to understand,” Wendell Walker told them in a choked voice today, “the very human suffering that’s going on in our city.”

“Something has to change. The streets are lawless now,” wrote one resident in a recent Community Council survey about crime and safety.

“Life looks bleak for a lot of folks right now,” wrote another.

The comments helped form the backdrop Tuesday for a high-level of frustration voiced by residents on the West End, Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.

It was so raw to Wendell Walker, he had to compose himself to describe the West End street where he lives.

“I’ve dealt with human defecation, urination, prostitution,” he told the Law and Public Safety Committee at Cincinnati City Hall.

He called Livingston Street “humanly uninhabitable right now.”

“Smoking crack cocaine, I’ve been threatened. I’ve had people threaten to kill and poison my dogs,” he said.

Walker paused there to stifle a sob.

We watched officers around Linn and Livingston on Tuesday asked residents about street violence, personal safety and gunfire.

Officer Andrea Taylor said: “The community is kind of, like, OK, we hear this all the time. They’re used to it and that’s a problem.”

We are told the pandemic has created a perception problem, a belief on the streets that cops are backing off due, in part, to COVID-19 concerns and to a lack of confidence that the politicians will stand up for them if there’s controversy about what they do. So, at one, two, three and four in the morning, residents say outsiders flood certain streets like it’s “Road Warrior” time.

They described the area around 13th and Main streets on weekend nights as a loud, unruly, intimidating street party complete with beer and booze sold out of car trunks. They told lawmakers and police commanders that music blares from speaker systems at such a high volume the windows of the old Italianate brick buildings vibrate and rattle.

They pleaded for something to be done about motorbikes drag racing along Main and other interior streets.

“At times, it looks like a scene out of a ‘Mad Max’ movie,” said Bob Sehlhorst, who lives and works in Over-the-Rhine.

Residents said they’re sick of it and want police to clear the streets.

Chief Eliot Isaac acknowledged the concerns and is working on a plan to increase uniformed visibility in trouble spots around the city.

At the same time, he pointed out it’s not illegal to be out at 4 or 5 a.m.

“People have a right to be out on the street,” the chief said.

Police have some tricky navigating ahead of them.

With city streets at stake, police commanders were told by Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman, who chairs the law committee, that council supports the police and will back the police.

Smitherman took pains to mention no one wants excessive or over-policing, but that under-policing is not desirable or effective, either.

He expressed confidence that police will get control of Main Street.

“Any criminal out there who believes that they’re running Cincinnati streets are going to learn that they do not,” Smitherman stated.

There’s a bipartisan push by David Mann, Democrat, and Betsy Sundermann, a Republican, to create a task force that would include people who live in the West End community and know it well to come up with safety solutions for troubled West End streets.

Everyone seems to be searching for the right approach, the right tone. That search includes the man on Livingston Street.

“I want you to understand,” Wendell Walker told them in a choked voice today, “the very human suffering that’s going on in our city.”