Cincinnati Unveils a New Weapon in Its War on Violence

A 70-officer task force conceived by the city's police department to combat the epidemic of black-on-black crime over the last three months has officially been set into motion.

Since mid-April when rioting in the city broke out over the killing of Timothy Thomas, 19, who was shot while fleeing a white police officer, gun violence has increased 300 percent, when compared to the same time period last year.

In the last three months, 86 people have been shot. All but two were black. It's a statistic with a controversial flashpoint.

"Officers are increasingly hesitant to take necessary enforcement action, primarily in black neighborhoods, for fear of being labeled a racist or racial profiler," Keith Fangman of the Fraternal Order of Police said.

Black leaders say police have been avoiding their neighborhoods ever since the four days of rioting a few months ago that saw motorists dragged from cars, fires set and one police officer shot.

"It's really not the people," Rev. H.L. Harvey, a community activist, said. "It's the police."

The department deployed its new task force in the face of mounting pressure from Cincinnati residents to stem the tide of violence.

But Fangman says the mission is impossible unless the black community takes some responsibility.

"For far too long, people in positions of leadership in the black community have looked the other way when it comes to black-on-black violence, and now they want to blame police for that" he said. "That's not fair."

So what took the department so long to launch this task force?

Privately, some officers will tell you that they thought the violence would stop of its own accord.

"This task force cannot alone solve the problems that are out there," police officer Thomas Streicher said. "These problems are intertwined with much larger issues — issues of economic and equality, issues affected by education processes."

Some black leaders say those problems are not for the police to solve, that the surge of shootings needs to addressed first.

Even some of the critics who, months ago, blasted the Cincinnati police for using too much force are pleased to see it back in action.

"They're coming in to try and help us," Harvey said. "When I say us, I mean the black community."