By Howard Rahtz and Tim Rudduck
The opioid epidemic. Racial tension. Human trafficking. Terror attacks. Community unrest. These are among the major challenges confronting America’s police forces and extending through the larger system of law enforcement, corrections and justice. And while police officers, judges, prosecutors and corrections officials struggle to address them, the public grows increasingly skeptical of the criminal justice system’s fundamental effectiveness and fairness.
A 2015 Gallup poll found public confidence in the police at a 22-year low. For millennials, that lack of trust extends to the entire criminal justice system. A 2015 study by the Harvard Institute of Politics found nearly half of young adults lack confidence in the nation’s criminal justice system.
The problem is particularly intense in Ohio, which is the epicenter of the national opioid epidemic and has the most drug overdose deaths in the country. However, the good news is that Ohio criminal justice professionals are responding to the challenges in a way that not only improves public safety but also strengthens community ties.
Their response has been particularly successful at the Cincinnati Police Department, an early pioneer of community engagement and problem-solving. A study published by the Police Foundation found crime reductions and improvement in community relations over a period extending from 2005 to 2014. Through the study period, robberies were down 55 percent, aggravated assaults down 42 percent and thefts from autos down 41.9 percent. What’s more, these reductions were clearly not the result of heavy policing. While crime was declining, felony arrests were down 40 percent, citizen complaints were down 42.6 percent and use of force incidents were down 57 percent.
Similarly, Colerain Township, in southwest Ohio, has directly attacked the heroin problem with a community-wide effort. The township’s Quick Response Team (QRT) program includes not only police officers and paramedics, but also counselors from the local Addiction Services Council. The program has received multiple awards for its work in saving lives and providing a path to recovery for heroin addicts and is being replicated around the country.
These kinds of creative solutions are not limited to police departments. Prosecutors, judges and corrections personnel are all looking for more effective and cost-beneficial ways to address crime problems. One such project is the Targeted Community Alternative to Prison program, better known as T-CAP. Initiated in Clinton County in October of 2016 by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's (ODRC) Director Gary Mohr, the program provides local communities the resources they need to supervise, sanction, and rehabilitate offenders found guilty of the lowest-level felony offenses in the community rather than sending the person to prison. The ODRC funded the program with the savings expected to be realized by diverting those targeted offenders from prison. And as of this week, it’s headed to the governor’s desk to be included as part of the budget.
Since October 1, 2016, not one person convicted of a fifth-degree felony in Clinton County has been sanctioned to prison. However, this does not mean the offender gets off scot-free. Instead, he or she receives treatment for what is often a public health issue – like drug addiction or mental health challenges – and is then strictly monitored by the court's supervision department. This monitoring period provides the sustained care needed for genuine rehabilitation in a way that warehousing someone in a short-term prison stay does not. It also prevents many people from re-offending and recidivating, as most people do after a prison stay. T-CAP illuminates that holistic recovery is possible.
In addition to the remarkable successes of T-CAP, Clinton County has also developed its You-Turn Recovery Drug Court with funds from the ODRC. It has hired a medical doctor to better understand all of the medical issues that trigger the criminal activity in the community, as well as a new supervision officer who helps implement the court’s rigid drug testing. The testing requires participants to call in every day to learn if they need to report for a drug test. If they violate court orders, swift and certain sanctions are imposed, including loss of liberty. But with funds provided by ODRC, the sheriff is reimbursed for the imposed jail term at less cost to Ohio taxpayers than the expense of a short-term state prison stay.
All over the state, police, prosecutors, judges, social services and committed community leaders are working together to solve the problems afflicting Ohio citizens. Making the criminal justice system work to truly improve public safety in a fair and cost-effective fashion is a goal all Ohioans can support.
Howard Rahtz is a retired Cincinnati Police captain and author of "Race, Riots and The Police."
Tim Rudduck is a Clinton County Common Pleas Court judge.