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Cincinnati arrests slow amid tension

After riots convulsed this city three months ago, there was much earnest talk about healing. But instead, violent crime has surged and arrests have plummeted as some police officers openly admit to slacking off on their jobs for fear that aggressive patrol work will set this tense city aflame once more.

Police, who were blamed for triggering the riots, say they still answer every radio call, still help every citizen in need. Yet they are refusing to do the little things that help keep a city safe, from ticketing bad drivers to initiating drug busts to stopping shady-looking characters on the street.

The result: Arrests in Cincinnati and its suburbs plunged by more than 55 percent in April and May, compared with the same period a year ago. Violent crime in the city, meanwhile, surged by 29 percent in May compared with statistics from a year ago.

In the six-week period following the riots, there were 25 felonious assaults with a firearm. During the same stretch last year, there were two. In a single night last week, officers responded to six separate shootings _ unprecedented for Cincinnati. And four officers have been shot at in the last two weeks.

The riots _ three days of lootings, beatings and arson attacks downtown _ started April 9, two days after a white officer shot an unarmed black man fleeing arrest on foot.

Timothy Thomas, 19, was the 15th black suspect killed by white officers since 1995. The police repeatedly pointed out that most of those killed had been brandishing weapons. But the public, especially the black community, was not willing to let the cops off the hook.

Under a new policy mandated by the City Council, every officer must note the race of every citizen he pulls over. The media get those records and report them: Cops who stop blacks at particularly high rates have heard their names uttered with venom on talk radio.

There are officers who deplore the pullback as unethical. And there are critics who blast it as pathetic. "They know how to do their job without violating people's civil rights, and they don't need a slowdown to do it," lawyer Kenneth Lawson said. "This is their way of paying the city back for criticizing them. They're just a bunch of crybabies."

Officer Eric Smoot, a 21-year veteran of the force, warns that the slowdown is sending the wrong message to a community already leery of police. "The message it sends, if you don't care about us, we don't care about you."

Rev. Damon Lynch III, a black leader, agreed: "The leaders of this community should stand up and say to the police, "You will do your job.' "

Politicians and police commanders, however, are sympathetic to the slowdown. Mayor Charlie Luken recently urged the public to be nice to officers because they're under so much pressure.