The firing of roughly twelve shots in City Heights this week resulted in the latest police call to the public housing site and increased concern among residents of neighboring Monte Casino.
Covington Police Chief Spike Jones addressed those concerns at his monthly forum on Thursday.
Police responded late Monday night to the intersection of Todd Court and Benton Road after several calls poured into Kenton County dispatch following the sound of shots. According to police records, at least one caller told dispatchers that he believed two guns were used.
That caller was later proven to be correct after investigators discovered multiple shell casings from 9mm and 40 caliber handguns.
No arrests have been made and no one was injured.
"The weather is warming up, everybody's got their windows open and can hear everything going on," Jones said of the 11:19 p.m. shooting. The chief thanked the neighbors for the volume of calls and said that ten officers responded within minutes. "The whole shift for the night showed up because of the number of calls."
Jones said the investigation has not yet determined whether the shooter or shooters got out of the car or whether they fired at anyone or simply into the air.
"Fortunately, it hasn't been as regular an occurrence as it used to be in City Heights but this is not to say in any way shape or form that this is a good thing," Jones said. "It's an indicator that more things are to come," he said of the shooting.
City Heights is a public housing project developed six decades ago and managed by the Housing Authority of Covington. According to Jones, there 972 residents there while according to the US Census tract for Monte Casino, 907 people live in that geographically larger city neighborhood.
But though the population figures are similar, police calls to City Heights are much higher in volume. Jones said that so far in 2014 there have been sixty-four service calls to Monte Casino while police have responded 294 times to City Heights. Those calls range from parking or barking dog complaints to violent crimes.
From July 1 to December 31 in 2013, police responded to Monte Casino 161 times and to City Heights 591 times.
"It's driving many calls to service," the chief said.
The Housing Authority has contracted with a consulting firm to explore redevelopment options for City Heights, which sits on a prime piece of real estate high above the rest of the city. Whether it would be best to raze the property and redevelop it as a mixed-income project like River's Edge at Eastside Point which replaced Jacob Price, another housing project in the city, or turn it over to private developers for residences or commercial use, has not yet been determined.
"I'm not building a soapbox yet but numbers are numbers and if I have to look at where we're putting our resources, I'd much rather have folks maybe living in a neighborhood where they want, in a neighborhood like Monte Casino or other neighborhoods in the city where they're not just in that one little pocket and driving that much activity in one little area," Jones said.
Jones said that he does not blame the residents of City Heights. "The way that facility was designed and built, it's outlived its effectiveness," he said. "Maybe even geographically the location has outlived its effectiveness."
Sgt. Bryan Frodge, the department's community liaison, said he is unsure if out-of-town or out-of-neighborhood visitors are the primary causes of calls to City Heights, but he said that since the streets were privatized (the City transferred ownership to the Housing Authority) trespassing has decreased significantly.
"I can tell you that the (officers) that work there have an extensive trespass list," Frodge said. "If you're on it and you're up there, even if your intentions are good, they will sign a trespass warrant for you or have you arrested."
City Manager Larry Klein, who attended Thursday's forum, said that the calls to City Heights, coupled with calls to Latonia Terrace, another housing project that sits beneat City Heights, are a burden to the police department. He said all of Kenton County's public housing is in Covington.
"I think it's bad both ways," Klein said. "It puts a burden on service providers and also exposes residents and kids of those one thousand units to just one way of life, so what I've always encouraged the Housing Authority to do is to think county-wide, think about spreading those units out. Mainstreaming the residents, mainstreaming the kids, exposing them to other communities, other school systems, and not just looking at the same thing every day."
The Housing Authority of Covington operates independently of the city except that its Board of Commissioners is appointed by the mayor and approved by the city commission. Its executive director, Aaron Wolf-Bertling, who also manages the city's section-8 housing program, is retiring in the coming weeks and the search is on for his successor.
Klein suggested that the Housing Authority should look to Newport as an example of redeveloping public housing and should also work more closely with the county in sharing the responsibility. "Let's look at public housing as a regional issue, not as a City of Covington issue, because it does place a disproportionate amount of services on our taxpayers."
Klein said that his uncle and aunt lived in City Heights in the post-War mid-century era as a means to stabilize their lives.
"The whole idea is meant to be a temporary transition, not a generational thing," Klein said. "But it's turned into a generational thing."
JT Spence, a former city commission and former chairman of the Housing Authority Board and current chairman of the Covington Neighborhood Collaborative, also said that Newport should be looked to as an example.
Spence also said that before Jacob Price was selected for redevelopment in the form of River's Edge, he and Wolf-Bertling had argued for City Heights to be chosen instead. "The executive director lost his job for pushing for City Heights instead of Jacob Price but Jacob Price was selected and we're left with City Heights," Spence said.
Klein said that the search for a new executive director at the Housing Authority, currently being conducted by a committee that includes the mayor, assistant city manager Larisa Sims, and the chairman of the Housing Authority Board, includes a profile of, "What I think embodies a lot of what we're talking about".
"We know there has to be a new direction."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News