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Dayton police see a ‘shocking shift’ in community attitudes over past year

Reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the Oregon District shooting, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, left and City of Dayton Fire Chief Jeff Lykins. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the Oregon District shooting, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, left and City of Dayton Fire Chief Jeff Lykins. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

“Thank You Dayton Police” signs peppered storefronts and front lawns around the region after the quick response by officers cut short a deadly shooting rampage in the Oregon District in August, and again after Detective Jorge Del Rio died in the line of duty in November.

But then in June amid national unrest over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, a mural of Steve Whalen — A Dayton police officer killed in the line of duty in 1991 — was defaced with a picture of a pig. Nearby graffiti read “Only good cop is a dead one.”

Reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the Oregon District shooting, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl called it a “shocking shift for sure ... that is extremely harmful and detrimental to good relationships that are required to create a safe community.”

Six Dayton police officers are credited with saving countless lives by rushing toward gunfire, shooting and killing the gunman only about 30 seconds after he started firing. Biehl lauds their response, but said it would be even better to prevent such a tragedy in the first place. In that short amount of time, the shooter still killed nine people and wounded dozens more.

ExploreCommunity images needed for virtual memorial one year after the Oregon District shooting

“Trying to prevent a mass casualty event, the effort needs to be invested in getting upstream, intervening before that first shot is ever fired. Because once someone starts shooting someone at a rate of more than one per second with the capacity that the individual had on the night of August the 4th, any response is going to be woefully insufficient no matter how quick.”

“In order to get upstream, that requires trust between law enforcement and the community and requires communication of individuals who are showing risk of elevated threat to engage in violence,” Biehl said.

Biehl said the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting caps more than a year of hardship and challenges for his officers.

Reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the Oregon District shooting, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, left and City of Dayton Fire Chief Jeff Lykins. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the Oregon District shooting, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, left and City of Dayton Fire Chief Jeff Lykins. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

“There are multiple crises that we’re all living through, some just unique to the Dayton region like 16 tornadoes, and a mass shooting and the murder of a veteran police detective. But there are also national, international crises that we are also sharing with the rest of the country and the world that we are also living through,” he said. “So if one just had had just one of those events to process, it would be a large undertaking for many. To have all of those at the same time, I’m pretty convinced that many people are having a difficult time navigating through all of this turmoil.”

Biehl wonders how much the current animosity toward police is attributable to actions by Dayton police versus national outrage over the killing of unarmed Black men and women in other parts of the country. Either way, he said “there is clearly work ahead.”

He stressed that Dayton police officers have the same desires for a safe and equitable community as everyone else. ”We live here,” he said, noting the volunteer work his officers do off the clock.

“Policing is fundamentally relational,” he said. “Anything that degrades that relationship, whether it’s police misconduct or hostility from people in the community, erodes the potential for us to have the safe community we all want. So we need to get past conflict to cooperation.”

Dayton Shines

A series of events called Dayton Shines is planned this week to honor victims of the Aug. 4, 2019 shooting. Events are virtual and spaced out when possible to avoid gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic. Events include:

  • Nine Minutes of Silence will be observed at 8:04 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4, to remember the nine victims of the shooting. The city will provide a video tribute on its Facebook page at that time. Candles benefiting the Oregon District Business Association to be used during the memorial can be purchased from www.1880candleco.com/daytonshines.
  • On Aug. 4, the community is invited to place a note on a Memorial Tree in the Oregon District honoring the victims and reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the tragic events. Note cards will be located next to the tree, along with the seed packets.
  • A photo mosaic made from a collection of contributed pictures, pieced together to create a unified, memorial image, will be unveiled on Aug. 4.
  • A 17-minute documentary produced by University of Dayton students called “Dayton’s Darkest Summer” will be shown on Zoom at 7 p.m. Aug. 3.
  • A prayer walk and lord’s supper celebration is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2. Lineup starts at 1:30 p.m. at AFSCME Local 8 parking lot.
  • The Dayton International Peace Museum and The Facing Project partnered to collect stories about gun violence in our community. The collection of stories will be made available to the public on Aug. 1.