Place-Based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories (PIVOT) in Cincinnati, Ohio
Lieutenant Matthew Hammer, Cincinnati Police Department
In 2015, Cincinnati, Ohio saw an appreciable spike in gunshot victimization. While other cities were also experiencing a surge in shootings, the confluence of several factors in Cincinnati led to a unique response. Cincinnati had committed to problem-solving as the primary policing strategy almost fifteen years prior. As a result, institutional knowledge had developed regarding policing from an evidence base. Cincinnati’s local government had recognized shooting victimization as a top priority and previously implemented a focused-deterrence strategy, the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). CPD had also developed relationships with partner academics, including Dr. John Eck and Dr. Robin Engel from the University of Cincinnati. This partnership led to many changes in the CPD, including the Chief’s Scholars Program, an opportunity for Cincinnati Police Officers to pursue a master’s degree in Criminal Justice. I was able to earn my master’s degree through this program, which has proved invaluable in understanding evidence-based policing. This program allowed me to develop the comfort spaces concept under the mentorship of Dr.’s Eck and Engel, through a final project. This would later be integrated into the PIVOT strategy.
DEVELOPMENT OF PIVOT
In the fall of 2015, a group of academics and practitioners assembled to discuss how the problem of gunshot victimization could be better addressed in Cincinnati. Dr. Tamara Madensen (University of Nevada Las-Vegas), joined CPD Captain Maris Herold, Senior Crime Analyst Blake Christenson, and others, to craft a new policing strategy. The opportunity for improving Cincinnati’s violence reduction effort seemed to lie with a greater focus on places, to compliment offender-oriented efforts. Emerging research suggested that places had relevance for crime beyond repeat crime sites, and it seemed the police could do more to capitalize on this recognition. If a crime place network could be identified and disrupted in addition to offender network disruption, there seemed a potential for more impactful reductions in violence.
THE PIVOT OPERATION
In the spring of 2016, I was asked to help make the PIVOT strategy operational in Cincinnati. I began the process of selecting a sergeant and four sworn officers to join two crime analysts. The task appeared enormous. Starting a unit from the ground-up, for the purpose of engaging in a policing strategy that had not been done before, would challenge all of us. The strategy had already been publicly announced by the Mayor, City Manager, and Police Chief as the City’s new response to shootings. I half-joked that all we needed to find were perfect cops. We needed them to be tactically sound to patrol the most violent areas of the city, with enough investigative savvy to understand and disrupt complex criminal schemes such as white-collar and financial crimes, and with the ability to communicate and partner with the community. After all, place-based problem solving requires strong and broad partnerships – and collaboration. These officers needed this wide skill set because the problems we identified would inform the responses, and these officers needed to be prepared to execute the most appropriate response and be able to resist simply executing the most familiar ones.
The team that has joined PIVOT has absolutely lived up to those demands. Sergeant Shannon Heine has contributed a decade of investigative experience, including in Internal Investigations and Homicide. She has earned the respect of many within the Department and in the community. Officers Christopher Clarkson, Oscar Cyranek, and Don Konicki have brought a combined 37 years of police experience in Patrol, Investigations, Vice, Violent Crimes, Personal Crimes, and Financial Crimes. Each is a veteran or armed forces reservist. In addition to PIVOT duties, these officers are active in Honor Guard, Civil Disturbance Response, Marine, and Mountain Bike Patrol. The talents of Senior Crime Analyst Blake Christenson have made a tremendous impact on the overall project, and PIVOT welcomed the newest member, Samantha Elliott, to the analytic team this spring. In addition to the police team, a multi-sector group was assembled. This group meets bi-weekly to work on project sites. It includes representatives from Law, Buildings, Economic Development, Fire, Health, the Community-Police Partnering Center, and community leaders, to name only a few. The PIVOT program has collaborated with a previously separate initiative, the Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), to coordinate community development efforts with public safety efforts (see the PIVOTPOINT video documentary – CPDPIVOT.com).
This strategy has been executed in five sites across the City. Each (approximately three-block) site was selected because of extraordinarily high and sustained violence. Reflective of this, two PIVOT officers recovered six firearms in five separate investigations during one early month of operation. These officers are first to respond on many shots fired and gun calls for service, as they are routinely in the most volatile areas. (See www.CPDPIVOT.com/analytics for information on site selection.)
This strategy takes time. The first two sites were active projects for approximately eighteen months. Sites three-five have been active for more than a year. Major responses have included: working with apartment managers and business owners, restricting on-street parking, lighting interventions, placement of public safety cameras, bus stop relocation, building demolition (an apartment building, an abandoned school, and several condemned houses), clearing of overgrowth, fence installation, and several public nuisance actions including one that served as the impetus for the closure of a convenient store that re-opened as a community-based non-profit thrift store. (see www.CPDPIVOT.com/casestudies, for more information on network identification and disruption). Many more interventions have taken place, some big and others small. To understand the difference between this strategy and others requires the ability to know the devil is truly in the details.
Outcomes to date have exceeded expectations. The first site previously averaged more than a shooting per month but did not record a shooting for 470 days following the intervention. Two-hundred forty-three days have passed since there was a shooting in site two. Each of the other sites has experienced a marked decline in the frequency of shooting victimizations. Violence scores have declined across all five sites between 50-80%.
It takes time to uncover the place network and more time to craft responses that will disrupt the network. One goal has been to get enough information to truly understand the dynamics of project space. Another has been to resist expending resources on things unlikely to influence violence. A third was to recognize the critical nature of community partnership, without which there would be much less success. CPD was honored to win the 2017 Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing for the PIVOT strategy. While this strategy is challenging to implement and execute, Cincinnati’s experience suggests it is an approach worth considering.
For more information about PIVOT see:
Madensen, T.D., Herold, M., Hammer, M. G., & Christenson, B. R. (2017). Place-based
investigations to disrupt crime place networks. The Police Chief, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 4.,
pages 14-15. International Association of Chiefs of Police, Virginia.