During the COVID-19 pandemic, violent crime spiked, resulting in record-breaking homicide numbers. What are Toledo Police doing to respond?
On Saturday, Aug. 26, over 100 people marched in Toledo as part of the Communities Against Gun Violence protest organized by Sisters 4 Unity. The event, put together by relatives of those who have lost their lives to gun violence, called on city officials to do more to address the wave of violent crime that has devastated Toledo since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, Michael Troendle was appointed by the mayor to become the new chief of Toledo Police. A former Marine who has been with the department since December of 1993, Chief Troendle has his work cut out for him. In this interview, we asked him to shed light on the state of crime in Toledo and what steps the city is taking to answer the call of groups like Sisters 4 Unity.
Q: You’ve been with the Toledo Police Department for over 29 years. What can you tell us about the state of crime in Toledo in 2023, especially as it compares to previous years?
A: During my career, it ebbed and flowed. When I was first hitting the street in the early 90s, it was a pretty violent time in Toledo history. The 2000s were a bit of a lull for crime, and then obviously as we hit 2020, we really spiked. It was building up a little prior to that, but nothing like we saw during COVID and then after the riots.
That had a big impact on our crime. With everything shutting down, we weren’t having trials; and when you’re not having trials, those people that normally would have been removed from society because of the harm they were causing are now either recycled back out to the street or they’re sitting in jail. I think that contributed to the thought process that “Nothing is going happen to me if I do something.”
Also, after George Floyd and some of the riots and protests that happened, we saw law enforcement kind of reevaluate what our mission is, and our officers were legitimately concerned about enforcing the laws. Because they’re a little bit concerned about doing their job and doing it correctly, but still facing some kind of prosecution when an incident goes bad.
So that contributed to a lot of violent crime across the nation, not just in Toledo. I will say over the last eight to 10 months we’ve been doing a much better job of getting control of it. Some of that is a natural thing; with the courts being back in session, we’ve had a lot of homicide trials this year.
I think we’re doing a little better than most and I think our stats prove that. The mayor has spouted out that there is a 10% reduction in homicides nationwide, while we’re currently at 35% – 40% depending – which is a significant number.
From law enforcement’s perspective, the first thing I did when I was named chief is encouraging our officers that they are needed on the street, wanted on the street and that I want them out there doing their job – and that we support them when they do their job right. I think that just having that message is helping.
Q: One of your stated goals as chief has been to get more officers walking beats in neighborhoods. Do you feel that foot patrols have a positive effect on reducing crime?
A: On June 1, we started doing dedicated foot patrols in two neighborhoods – Starr and Main on the East Side and South and Hawley on the Southside. We based it off the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment, and they found that it does have a reduction of crime, so I think we will see something similar in those areas. It’s too early to tell if it’s having a positive impact on crime – but I definitely know it’s having a positive impact on our community relations, especially in those neighborhoods.
Q: So far, only 24 homicides have taken place in the City of Toledo this year – a significant drop from 66 in 2022 and 71 in 2021. What do you attribute this drop in homicides to?
A: It gets tough to nail down one thing when we’re doing so many things.
One of the biggest operations we did this year, Operation Overdrive, was with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). We targeted some of the most prolific shooters in the city limits and ended up making a lot of arrests. With the help of the DEA and ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), we utilized some different federal charges using the drug perspective as well. Did we arrest every one of them for murder? No, we didn’t; but we got quite a few shooters off the street. I think that had a pretty big impact.
Targeted enforcement activities like the Lagrange Area Safety Enforcement Response (LASER) and the Five-Points Area Safety Enforcement Response (FASER) – I think those are really big things contributing to the declining numbers in crime. We saw what happens when policing steps back, but now we’re starting to see what happens when policing comes back into play.
My goal when I took over at the beginning of this year was to get to pre-pandemic levels for this year. Once we get there, that’s when the hard part begins; that’s when we really need to start looking at the factors that are causing our current homicides and making sure we’re doing initiatives to target those. I think we’re taking great steps toward it.
Q: Recently, the city has been exploring methods of preventing or addressing violent crime that don’t depend as much on law enforcement. What role do you feel these initiatives have in helping to reduce crime?
A: Any non-enforcement activities that are going to help reduce crime, I am all for. The reality is that policing by itself can’t solve all societal ills. We’re not capable of looking at what the underlying factors are that are causing a certain neighborhood to decline or have a lot of crime in it.
For example, take all the youth programming that has happened; any time we can give our youth something to do is a great thing. So I’ll talk to any organization that is willing to come in and has a good idea on how to help combat crime.