Thursday, August 05, 1999

Police consider shooting revision

Proposal would ban shots at cars

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati Police Division is proposing a change in its “shots fired” policy that would no longer permit officers to shoot at suspects in moving cars.

        The new policy would keep officers safe and prevent them from shooting unnecessarily, Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. said Wednesday.

        Chief Streicher said there are exceptions to every situation, but he just wants his officers to be safe.

        “I don't want you to stand out in front of a car and say, "Stop! Police!'” the chief said of his officers. “The actual message here is: Don't put yourself in a situation where you can get hurt. If a train comes down the tracks, get off the tracks.”

        Under current policy, officers can shoot from inside their moving cars or shoot at drivers or passengers in moving cars if the officer is in a self-defense situation.

        The proposed revision says officers cannot fire shots in those situations “unless the occupants are using deadly physical force against the officer or another person present by means other than the vehicle.”

        It is a proposal that could make officers rethink situations such as the March fatal shooting of motorist Michael Carpenter, who was killed in his car by an officer who said he feared being run over.

        While the Carpenter shooting was a factor in the policy revision, the police division has been looking at changing its “shots fired” policy for several years, Chief Streicher said.

        The proposal is being considered by the police division's command staff and is under review by the law department. It could be implemented in as soon as a month, Chief Streicher said. The union that represents police officers opposes the change.

        “I can't make a policy that addresses each and every situation,” he said. “The overall issue is the tactics that our officers employ. We want our officers to be at an advantage at all times. We don't want our officers to put themselves at unnecessary risk.”

        In the last 51/2 years, Cincinnati police have shot into moving vehicles 10 times. The cases ranged from an officer shooting at tires to stop a car to the fatal shooting of Mr. Carpenter.

        Officers in the Carpenter case considered the car a deadly weapon, but the wording of the proposed policy suggests a car is not being considered a deadly weapon.

        That could be a problem, said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor and director of research in criminology at the University of South Carolina who specializes in police use of force.

        “Most of the policies from departments that deal with shooting at or from moving cars deal with shooting only as a last resort,” he said. “What if an officer slipped and fell trying to get out of the way of a moving car? You don't want an officer thinking, "Well, I can't use my gun.'”

        This kind of policy would bring Cincinnati in line with most progressive police agencies across the nation, said Bill Geller, a Chicago-area consultant who researches use-of-force issues and helps police agencies form policies.

        Any change in policy should be coupled with training, he said.

        “It's one thing to prohibit officers from doing something you don't want them to do,” he said. “It's another thing to train them to do what you want them to do.”

        If Cincinnati adopts a new policy, the training section will make sure each officer understands it, said Ted Schoch, a retired assistant chief who now commands the training academy.

        “Circumstances dictate the need to do things,” he said. “To say "never' is a very difficult thing to do. A policy is just that, a policy.”

        But some officers already are try ing to fight the change.

        The 18-member executive board of the local Fraternal Order of Police opposes it, FOP President Keith Fangman said.

        It makes no sense to tell an officer who is being dragged or is trapped by a car that the officer cannot shoot, he said.

        “The FOP agrees with the chief that officers must focus on safety by avoiding reaching into a car or being put in a situation where you could be run over,” he said. “But the officers still have to be able to defend themselves if put in those situations.”


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