Friday, May 10, 2002

Beanbag limbo


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        When a booze-pickled Rambo grabs a gun and barricades himself in a house, Cincinnati calls the SWAT team.

        The cops who volunteer for SWAT duty are the finest of Cincinnati's finest. If they pass psychological and physical tests and two weeks of intensive training, they join an elite team of 44. Their reward is more training and hazardous duty, but no extra pay.

        “They are hand-picked, high-caliber, very respected and very disciplined people,” said Cincinnati Police spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd.

No backup

        But God help them if they get in trouble, because the city will not.

        If they get in a jam, the politicians whose lives they would protect with their own will turn their backs.

        If a protester gets hurt, she will get a big check from the city — while the SWAT cop gets huge legal bills, threats of an indictment and a wrecked life.

        On April 14, 2001, six Cincinnati SWAT members and two Ohio State Highway Patrol officers were assigned to protect Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken and other officials who attended the funeral of a suspect whose shooting triggered three days of riots.

        As the politicians left the funeral, a SWAT team was ordered to clear an intersection where protesters were blocking traffic. The cops feared more attacks on motorists, and members of the New Black Panther Party were approaching, rumored to be armed.

        The cops were confronted by a crowd that yelled profanities — later described as “peaceful.” They ordered them to disperse, then opened fire with nonlethal beanbag guns.

        Protesters claimed it was a “drive-by” attack by rogue cops. Two girls, ages 7 and 11, were hit, along with a Louisville teacher.

        It's reasonable to ask what the cops were doing. But their side has never been told because they were immediately under criminal investigation, and lawyers told them to say nothing.

Paid for protesting

        It's also reasonable to ask what the heck a Louisville teacher and two kids were doing in a riot zone.

        Nevermind. Along with 37 others hit by beanbags during the riots, they will share $236,000, plus attorney fees, from generous taxpayers. City officials denied the police used excessive force, but paid anyway.

        The cops were not so lucky.

        At least one has spent $17,000 for attorney fees — others have come close — during a Department of Justice investigation that produced no indictments.

        For more than a year, they have been dangling in limbo while the Fraternal Order of Police has asked the city to reimburse them.

        The two Highway Patrolmen were cleared in a few months. The Cincinnati cops are still under the cloud of an internal investigation.

        A recent newsletter from FOP President Roger Webster summed up the lesson: Cops who fire beanbags will “open yourself up to losing your home, cars, kids' college funds and other financial hardships. Remember the city administration will not back you one iota, you will be on your own.”

        Pay the protesters, stiff the cops. We're lucky they don't tell us, “You're on your own.”

        E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.

       



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