Crime has surged in Cincinnati's poor, mostly black neighborhoods — and according to the police union, cops are "hesitant to take enforcement action."

Union President Keith Fangman says that in the three months since the police slaying of an unarmed black man touched off riots, officers are holding back "for fear of being labeled a racist or a racial profiler."

Since April, Cincinnati has had 60 shootings, compared with nine shootings in the same period a year ago, Fangman said. According to the union, arrests are down fifty percent.

Police Chief Tom Streicher said the violence is the worst and most persistent he has seen in his 30-year career. He has formed a task force of 70 officers, some of whom will work undercover beginning next week.

Some critics, however, question whether the decline in arrests is intentional.
 
"This slowdown is just another intimidation tactic against the black community," the Rev. James W. Jones said.

Many police officers pulled back after a note in the police union newsletter encouraged them to think twice before getting into a situation where they could be accused of racism or brutality, according to Officer Adam Hennie.

Hennie has experienced problems on his own patrol. Earlier this week, he tried to break up an argument between two black women shouting profanities at each other.

"Several of the people [in the neighborhood] asked me why I was hassling" the woman who was taking most of the abuse, the 27-year-old white officer said. "They didn't even know that I was trying to help her. It's something they automatically assume."

Fangman said the pullback is not a job action or a protest on the part of officers.

"They genuinely want to do proactive, self-initiated policing," he said. "But as a result of the events of the last three months, many officers have simply thrown their hands up in the air and said they give up."

Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old unarmed black man, was shot to death by a white officer on April 7 in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. He was 15th person — all of them black — to have died at the hands of Cincinnati police since 1995. Thirteen were armed.

Eldon Royston, 32, of Over-the-Rhine, said he has grown increasingly concerned for the safety of his five children because of the police pullback.

"I didn't see them in this area a lot before all the trouble started, but now you hardly ever see them," said Royston, who is black. "Before, you would see them drive by sometimes."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.