Toledo police looking to double gang task force
The Toledo Police Department is placing bids for eight new gang task force officers that would double the size of the unit, said Sgt. Joe Heffernan.
Heffernan, the TPD public information officer, says the Starr Avenue-East Broadway corridor and the Charles F. Weiler Homes, a Lucas County Metropolitan Housing residential project on Fassett Street in East Toledo, have become hot spots for gang activity.
At the East Toledo Club meeting, Sergeant Joe Heffernan answers questions from Tim Martin and Eulan Tucker (top right) and community Block Watch Leader Robin Sopko. (Press photos by Ken Grosjean)
In January, TPD implemented its T-Serve program, which is modeled after other cities, to address gang violence.
“We take gang members who are on parole, take them to court, and tell them, ‘Next time you are found using a gun we are not only going to prosecute you, but others who are members of your group,’” Heffernan said. “In the state of Ohio, if you are in a gang that is participating in criminal activity, you can be arrested for just be being part of that gang.”
He said a year-long investigation recently resulted in arrests of Crypt gang members centered around St. Vincent’s Hospital. The gang members were charged in federal court after undercover agents purchased drugs and firearms.
“We are working with federal law enforcement agencies to address how to handle these guys,” Heffernan said. “When you put federal charges on someone, it’s effective. But it can take a long time — a lot of surveillance, a lot of buying guns and drugs, but if you really want to dismantle a gang, that’s how to do it — on a federal level.”
Heffernan spoke to about 60 guests during a luncheon hosted by the East Toledo Club at the East Toledo Senior Center Thursday.
Among guests were two ladies who have had their homes invaded by potential burglars three times, each. Nearly everyone in attendance, mostly senior citizens, had stories of crimes in their neighborhoods.
When another guest asked what his rights were to defend against an intruder, Heffernan warned about using lethal force, citing so-called “Castle Laws,” unless absolutely necessary.
“Certainly if they are on your property, that gives you a little more leverage on using lethal force, but ultimately you are going to have to make a case of why you did it. Ultimately, you are likely going to be sued and a grand jury is going to look into it. It’s a last resort,” Heffernan said.
“Unless you absolutely have to, don’t do it. If somebody is on your property and calls an SOB, that doesn’t give you authority to go and shoot them. You have a right to bear arms — that’s in the Constitution and I’m a big proponent of that — and you have to be able to defend yourself.”
Crime drops 3%
He said that overall crime on the east side is down three percent when comparing 2011, when Chief Derrick Diggs first stepped in replacing Mike Navarre, to 2012.
“That’s not big, but it’s something — but it’s kind of a mixed bag,” Heffernan said.
Dropping in East Toledo since last year are arson, burglaries, felony thefts, and auto thefts. Increasing in numbers are felony assaults, homicides, rapes and sexual assaults, and robberies.
“I can tell you that East Toledo has a problem and we are aware of it, especially that Starr-East Broadway area and around Weiler Homes,” Heffernan said. “I can tell you that numbers at these hot spots are coming down over the last month, but I’m not going to tell you that over here it’s better than the rest of the city, because it’s not.”
He said violent crime has been on the increase, adding that Toledo still has lower crime rates than comparable cities in population and area, mentioning Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
“You can get all kinds of opinions on why it’s happening. We are aware of it and we are doing all we can to combat it,” Heffernan said. “Property crimes, as far as numbers go, far outweigh violent crimes, so that’s where we were able to make a difference. The good news is that it’s trending down and hopefully that will continue to trend down with what Chief Diggs is doing.”
When Chief Diggs took over, one of his first projects was creating a Crime Intelligence Report, which a “CompStat” committee reviews every two weeks looking for crime trends and hot spots.
“We look at that data, where certain crimes are occurring, and then we put our resources where that crime is,” Heffernan said. “That doesn’t mean if you live in a low-crime area, we are going to ignore that area.”
In addition, Heffernan said, Chief Diggs is trying to rely on more technology, which includes the installation of security cameras around the city.
“Once our camera program gets up and going, I think you will see a big difference,” Heffernan said.
The first of two phases installing cameras has already begun with about 20 cameras now installed, but more are coming to complete this phase. The second phase should bring about 60 more cameras. Because of WiFi and other technical issues, TPD is not releasing yet where the cameras are going to be placed.
“Some of the cameras are very obvious — that’s part of the strategy,” Heffernan said. “You’ll see them in big boxes with flashing lights going. The criminal may think nobody is looking, but we’ve got someone in the safety office who is watching. If they see a camera that is high on a pole, they are going to decide that there must be somewhere else to go.”
Many covert cameras will be disguised in places where the department sees crimes developing certain patterns, Heffernan said.
Sgt. Heffernan admitted that there have been calls concerning “Big Brother” watching residents on the street, but those calls have become marginalized by citizen’s concerns over crime.
“For every call we get about people saying we are concerned about being watched by the police, there are 10 calls saying, ‘Can you put one on our street?’ The community input has been very positive.”
Sgt. Heffernan stressed that the department is at its lowest numbers in modern times — 200 police officers short of previous staff counts.
He says the mayor has committed to bring those numbers back up, and believes the economy is improving enough that it will happen, noting that recruitment has already begun. He also believes TPD will reinstitute its Citizen’s Police Academy.