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The hardware store was empty at mid-day, when it should have been busy. That caught the attention of police.
Cincinnati Police Sergeant Michelle Bradley quietly pulled her service revolver from its holster, and with her partner beside her, slipped into the business.
“Anybody in here?,” she asks – then listens intently to the silence that follows.
Quietly, they followed a line of shelves to the point where they make a sharp left turn.
At the end of a row is a closed door. Nobody is in sight.
Without warning the door springs open. A man appears. Both arms are raised at the officers. A gun is pointed right at them.
Fearing for their lives, both officers instinctively call on their training. Shots ring out. The suspect falls to the ground.
It wasn’t a scene from the streets of Cincinnati. It was the firearms training simulator where the hardware store interior was displayed on a wall by computer projection.
It was refresher training for Sgt. Bradley, plus dozens of other officers, sergeants and supervisors at the Cincinnati Police Training Academy.
They’re taking courses in use of force, tasers and how to use a new computer system to fill out accident reports.
These are the men and women who are being pulled from special assignments to fill the street patrol jobs of 135 Cincinnati police officers who will be laid off Sunday to balance the city’s budget.
Sgt. Bradley has been on the force for seven years and had worked her way into the Planning Section.
Now, she’s being demoted to Police Officer and assigned to District 5. Her pay is being cut 16%.
“In one sense it’s disappointing to be demoted, but at the same time, I’m going to get to do some of the things that I really enjoyed doing when I was first on the department,” she said.
As the firearms simulator training continued, Sgt. Bradley and her partner searched the rest of the hardware store.
Suddenly, a man’s arms appeared at one side of a doorway.
“Get your hands up! Get your hands up!,” Sgt. Bradley orders. “Get your hands up where we can see them!”
The simulation turned more real when another police officer, playing the man in the store, came through a doorway of the academy building.
“Keep your hands where we can see them at all times,” continued Sgt. Bradley, as she sized up the suspect.
Things got more intense when Sgt. Bradley noticed a gun in the man’s waistband.
“Turn around away from us,” she commanded, and the suspect complied.
He claimed he had a permit to carry the gun. That would be sorted out later. He was handcuffed and detained pending the outcome of the investigation.
“Outstanding! You both did a marvelous job,” the training instructor called out to the officers.
The refresher course isn’t a big adjustment for her, since she’s only been off the streets for a year-and-a-half. Still, she’s concerned about morale on the force.
“It’s very low,” she added. “Everybody’s disappointed in what’s going on.”
However, she added that the public will notice very few changes in their safety.
“We swore to be police officers to do our jobs and that’s what we’ll do,” Sgt. Bradley added.
She’s one of 25 sergeants being demoted to fill spots in the police department’s five districts.
On the academy’s second floor, Sgt. Dan Nickum stood in the doorway of a darkened room filled with computers on work stations. An instructor was at the front of the room going over details of how to fill out traffic accident investigation forms.
“The two spots most people have trouble with are the functional versus non-functional areas,” he told the class.
Sgt. Nickum has been with the Vice Squad the past 10 years. However, he’s moving into a supervisory position in District 3, effective Sunday. Many of the officers he worked with are going back to street duty as well.
“Are they happy that we’re losing policemen?,” he asked. “No. Nobody is happy that we’re losing policemen. Although, it will get better.”
He equated police work with riding a bicycle.
“You don’t forget,” he stated. “You may be a little rusty, but it takes just a little bit of time to jump back in.”
Despite concerns about morale, the retraining and changing jobs, Sgt. Nickum says he’s excited about what is to come.
“It’s a challenge, but not something that myself or any of the officers going back in uniform can’t handle,” he confidently stated. “We can take care of this.”
Even though there are rumblings of a Cincinnati City Council plan to avoid the layoffs, Police Chief Tom Streicher says the department has to manage the crisis.
“We’ve got to be concerned with those things that we can control and the things we can’t control we just have to accept,” the Chief said. “Our goal is to have on impact on the safety of citizens.”