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Opinion Pieces

Working together toward safer neighborhoods

Originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

On Aug. 16, in the span of 24 hours, 21 people were shot in seven separate incidents from Over-the-Rhine to the West End. Four people lost their lives.

This is just the latest in the violence that is spiking across our city. The Enquirer reports that shootings have increased by 47% and homicides by nearly 65% compared to last year, totaling 328 shootings and 58 homicides in 2020 as of last week. That brings us dangerously close to the all-time record, which was a total of 475 shootings and 73 homicides in 2015 – and it is only August.

All of this comes at a time when fringe groups, fueled by a national movement to "defund the police," are agitating to defund or radically restructure the Cincinnati Police Department. The danger of this national narrative being imposed upon our local community is that it attempts to force us into accepting a false dichotomy: either accept police brutality or defund the police.

However, this narrative is both false and counterproductive. Here in Cincinnati, we can and must do better. We can support equal justice under the law while also supporting those who enforce the law. We can speak out against police brutality while also seeking solutions for safe, effective policing in our communities. We can hold law enforcement officers accountable for their conduct, while also providing them with the tools and training necessary to better protect those they serve.

A deterrent is necessary to lawlessness. Civility and safety require policing. I am alive today because of the brave actions of United States Capitol Police Officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey, who saved my life three years ago from a gunman whose goal was to murder my colleagues and me on a baseball field one morning. My hope is that anyone in that situation – no matter their race, color, or creed – could count on being assisted by brave, honorable law enforcement officers who are willing to put their lives in harm’s way. That should be our goal. 

That is why I’ve cosponsored the JUSTICE Act of 2020, which prioritizes deescalation training and increases transparency and accountability in record-keeping, among other things. Rather than defunding the police and removing critical deterrents to violence, we need to be offering real, results-oriented solutions so our nation’s law enforcement officers are better prepared to protect the people they serve. We also need to be focusing on addressing the root causes of crime in impoverished or underprivileged neighborhoods by providing more opportunities, better access to education, and more pathways to employment.

We want safer neighborhoods for everyone, not neighborhoods that aren’t safe for anyone. We want laws to be enforced fairly, not for laws to not be enforced at all. We need equal justice, not zero justice.

Every year, thousands of people immigrate legally to the United States of America, fleeing countries that are rife with conflict and lawlessness, because they crave the opportunity and prosperity that comes with the stabilizing foundation of the rule of law that we have in this nation. Where there are gaps in that foundation, our goal should be to fix it, build on it, and make it better – not to destroy it. For us, that begins here in our own communities in Cincinnati. Over the past two decades, Cincinnati has been a model for effective police reform. Let’s build on that.

Safe neighborhoods benefit all of us. Just laws that are enforced fairly benefit all of us. And it benefits us all when we work together towards that goal.

U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Columbia Tusculum, is a doctor and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, serving since 1998.